Carbon capture project at Dry Fork Station begins Phase 3 testing

The Wyoming CarbonSAFE Project, located at Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station near Gillette, Wyoming, officially launched Phase 3 in October.

The School of Energy Resource’s (SER) Center for Economic Geology Research (CEGR) at the University of Wyoming (UW) is facilitating the project, which is investigating the feasibility of underground carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions storage from coal-based electric generation facilities.

Funding for Phase 3 of the project was approved in April, when SER and its partners received a $15.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory.

In addition to the $15.4 million in federal funding, Basin Electric is contributing $1.5 million, with UW’s cost-sharing contribution at $2.4 million.

The Wyoming CarbonSAFE Project (Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise) is among 13 original carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) project sites in the U.S. Funded by the DOE, the project’s ultimate goal is to ensure carbon storage complexes will be ready for integrated CCUS system deployment.

Paul Sukut, Basin Electric CEO and general manager, talked about the CarbonSAFE project at the cooperative’s annual meeting on Nov. 4. “If the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project is proven feasible, Dry Fork Station will be, if not one of, the cleanest coal plant in America,” Sukut said. “We can scrub for SO2 to 99%; we can take care of the mercury and the NOX via our SCR (selective catalytic reduction equipment). This would be the last step, essentially, to be able to extract the CO2 and inject it; it would be the last step to make it one of the cleanest coal plants in America.”

With the advancement of each stage of CarbonSAFE and varying success, fewer sites continued to the subsequent stages. Four of the original 13 projects have advanced to Phase 3, including sites in North Dakota, Alabama, and Illinois. One new project, located in New Mexico, has joined the program.

Phase 1 of the CarbonSAFE project was an 18-month initiative that began in 2016 to assess the pre-feasibility of CCUS technology. The Dry Fork Station was selected as the project site. Not only is the site ideally located in the Powder River Basin, which accounts for 40% of U.S. coal production, but also the unique subsurface geological features in Wyoming allow for optimal potential storage zones, said Scott Quillinan, director of UW’s CEGR.

Phase 2 of the project, in September 2018, began to assess the storage complex feasibility, with major activities including drilling a test well at the site and conducting a 3D geophysical survey. The test well was completed at a total depth of 9,873 feet, with 625 feet of core samples from nine different geological formations collected for analysis.

Following the completion of drilling, the team gathered downhole data by running sensors into the hole where team members gathered the information about the rock layers, fluids in the layers, and pressure within the formations of interest.

Phase 3 was pivotal for wrapping up data collection from Phase 2. Phase 3 project objectives are to finalize site characterization, complete Class 6 permitting to construct, integrate Membrane Technology and Research Inc.’s CO2 capture assessment, and conduct National Environmental Policy Act analyses to advance toward the eventual commercialization of a large-scale -- storage of 50 million metric tons of CO2 within a 30-year period -- CCUS project at Dry Fork Station.

If the projected success of Phase 3 comes to fruition, then the venture will advance to Phase 4 of the initiative for permitting and the construction of an actual storage complex, Quillinan said.

“Phase 3 will be the phase that tees up commercial operation at the study site, but also for other areas in Wyoming,” Quillinan said. “By the completion of Phase 3, the project team will have finalized all site characterization and Class 6 permitting activities, thereby leaving the project poised to begin final commercialization actions with the consent of project partners. In so doing, the project will have commercially advanced CCUS technologies both in terms of reservoir characterization in the CO2 storage context, and in obtaining the first Class 6 permit to construct in Wyoming so that others may follow suit.”

The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the application allowing Wyoming to have permitting authority for Class 6 wells.

By achieving primacy, Wyoming will be a haven for operators that want to take advantage of the 45Q tax credit that was extended and expanded through a bipartisan effort co-sponsored by Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, the Furthering Carbon Capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground Storage and Reduced Emissions (FUTURE) Act.

The tax credit incentivizes utilities and other industrial sources to build out CCUS projects, including Class 6 wells.

“Not only is Wyoming one of the test sites that is ahead of the curve in terms of the actual feasibility of CCUS technology, but we believe the ability to work directly under the guidance and regulatory oversight of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality makes the possibility of developing a commercial CCUS project more feasible in the state of Wyoming,” Quillinan added.

Other major participants and partners in the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project are Energy and Environmental Research Center, Advanced Resources International Inc., Carbon GeoCycle Inc., Membrane Technology and Research Inc., Denbury Resources Inc., UW Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, UW College of Business, UW College of Law, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Schlumberger.