North Dakota coal companies continue to eye a natural gas power plant being built in Texas.
Net Power’s zero-emissions, La Porte-based power plant is nearing completion and is expected to be fully operational by spring, said CEO Bill Brown.
The pilot plant is about a year behind schedule, most recently because of shipping delays caused by Hurricane Harvey, but also for a redesign last year that brought in a second, larger combustor to prepare for the needs of a commercial-sized plant.
The plant is developing a technology called the Allam Cycle, which uses pressurized carbon dioxide rather than steam to generate power. The system in Texas is fired on natural gas, but a consortium of North Dakota companies has been testing materials with the aim of creating a similar plant fired by synthetic natural gas from coal.
Wade Boeshans, president of BNI Energy, which operates the BNI Coal Center Mine, said he sees delays to the timeline as a natural occurrence whenever building something that is first of its kind. But seeing whether or not the plant succeeds is a key element in North Dakota’s research of the Allam Cycle.
The wait has put North Dakota’s efforts on a less aggressive path, Boeshans said. The current research cycle, which involves finding materials that can stand up to corroding chemicals in North Dakota’s coal, will continue through the first quarter of next year.
By this time next year, Net Power expects to have generated enough data to prove whether or not its technology is viable. It’s at that point North Dakota’s consortium will be looking for funding to continue its own research.
Also at that time, Net Power will begin design work on a commercial-scale, 300-megawatt plant, with the goal of signing contracts to build it in 2021. One potential site for the plant is North Dakota.
“I would love to build here,” Brown said.
The Texas pilot plant has constituted a $140 million investment, mostly in research and development. Stepping it up means more funding help from federal and state entities, in addition to private capital.
As part of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is trying to get a provision passed that would fund a large-scale coal technology program at $325 million annually from 2018 through 2022.
Brown said the 300-megawatt plant is expected to cost about $600 million to develop, perhaps a bit more if it's made to burn synthetic natural gas.
Even if North Dakota isn't chosen as the site for the next plant, companies in the state would likely buy back the technology, if successful, to adapt it to their own use, according to Boeshans.
The industry has indicated it is pleased with the Trump administration's announcement that it is scrapping the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
One of the major issues with the Clean Power Plan was that the timeline for reductions does not give coal plants adequate time to adjust, according to Boeshans, who said industry is likely to ask for at least 10 years for the technology to develop.
Boeshans pointed to another technology that North Dakota coal is developing, Project Tundra, which would retrofit the Milton R. Young Station near Center with a system to capture a portion of the plant's carbon emissions.
That project started about two years ago and is expected to be completed in 2024, giving it a timeline of nine years from conception to development.