Project Tundra

The proposed infrastructure needed for Project Tundra. MinnKota Power estimates the project will cost more than $1 billion and be completed in 2025. 

A proposed carbon capture project at a coal-fired power plant in Oliver County is inching closer to reality after securing federal funding for a study and beginning a geologic survey this week.

“Project Tundra” seeks to separate carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, from the rest of the exhaust gas created at the Milton R. Young Station. The carbon dioxide would then be injected underground, either for permanent storage or to boost oil production.

“It really is about finding a path forward for coal in a carbon-managed world,” said Stacey Dahl, senior manager of external affairs for Minnkota Power Cooperative, which operates the coal plant.

The project is complex, requiring multiple studies to prove its feasibility before construction could begin. Building the facility is expected to cost about $1 billion.

The $10 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy would go toward a front-end engineering design study, which follows other preliminary research. The new study will allow Fluor, an engineering and construction firm working as the project’s vendor, to go more in-depth into the proposed facility’s design and cost, Dahl said.

She said further review also is needed to examine the geology and infrastructure associated with storing the carbon dioxide underground.

Crews are beginning a survey near Center that involves monitoring vibrations created by small amounts of buried explosives, according to a fact sheet from project developers. The low-level vibrations travel into the earth and reflect back to the surface, where they are recorded by sensors. The survey will offer insight into the rock layers where carbon dioxide might travel if it’s injected underground.

“These are really the final research and development activities before you ultimately get to a final investment decision,” Dahl said.

She said the project also is seeking investors to take advantage of a federal tax credit for carbon capture facilities.

Project Tundra involves retrofitting the Milton R. Young Station by using a liquid solvent to bond to the carbon dioxide in the power plant’s exhaust gas. The liquid would separate up to 90% of the carbon dioxide from the rest of the emissions. The process is modeled after a carbon capture facility in Texas, known as Petra Nova.

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The energy department funding comes after the North Dakota Industrial Commission authorized $15 million for Project Tundra research last year. The money, from the Lignite Research Fund, is helping pay for the front-end engineering design study, as well as other research topics, Dahl said.

Support from the state government and from North Dakota’s congressional delegation has been key in advancing the project, she said.

Gov. Doug Burgum welcomed news of the federal funding.

“Project Tundra gives North Dakota the opportunity to reduce emissions and boost energy production for the benefit of consumers, the environment and the coal and oil industries that provide thousands of good-paying jobs and economic development resulting in billions in tax revenue to our state and local governments,” he said in a statement.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also announced this week that the energy department awarded $5 million to help the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota advance a regional carbon dioxide reduction partnership.

The EERC in Grand Forks has worked for years on carbon capture research and is involved in Project Tundra.

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(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)