Natrium reactor demo project to bring clean energy, jobs to Wyoming

TerraPower, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and PacifiCorp on June 2 announced efforts to construct a Natrium reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal-fired power plant in Wyoming.

The location of the Natrium demonstration plant is expected to be announced by the end of 2021. The demonstration project will be a fully functioning power plant, and is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology.

The project features a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MW of power for more than five-and-a-half hours when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes. This addition allows a Natrium plant to integrate seamlessly with renewable resources, and could lead to faster, more cost-effective decarbonization of electricity generation, according to a news release.

In addition, the technology’s novel architecture separates and simplifies major structures, reducing complexity, cost and construction schedule, while delivering safe and reliable electricity.

In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy, through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. TerraPower signed the cooperative agreement with DOE in May 2021. To date, Congress has appropriated $160 million for the ARDP, and DOE has committed additional funding in the coming years, subject to appropriations.

The Natrium system is a TerraPower and GE Hitachi technology. Along with PacifiCorp and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, members of the demonstration project team include engineering and construction partner Bechtel, Energy Northwest, Duke Energy and nearly a dozen additional companies, universities and national laboratory partners.

Next steps include further project evaluation, education and outreach, and state and federal regulatory approvals prior to construction of a Natrium facility.

“I am thrilled to see Wyoming selected for this demonstration pilot project, as our great state is the perfect place for this type of innovative utility facility and our experienced workforce is looking forward to the jobs this project will provide,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in the release. “I have always supported an all-of-the-above energy portfolio for our electric utilities. Our state continues to pave the way for the future of energy, and Wyoming should be the place where innovative energy technologies are taken to commercialization.”

TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates and a group of like-minded visionaries, is a leading nuclear innovation company that strives to improve the world through nuclear energy and science.

PacifiCorp provides safe and reliable electric service to 2 million customers in six western states, including Wyoming.

DEQ leads the way to find and reduce oil and gas facility emissions

In May of 2020, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's Air Quality Division and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report for the first phase of a study to better quantify performance of enclosed combustion devices, also known as enclosed flares, at oil and gas facilities.

ECDs, or enclosed flares, are emission control devices at oil and gas facilities that ensure Volatile Organic Compound pollution is at least 98% destroyed prior to reaching Wyoming's air. This is important because VOCs are a precursor to the formation of ozone.

This study, "Measuring Enclosed Combustion Device Emissions using Portable Analyzers,'' found that ECDs at various sites had a wide range of hydrocarbon destruction efficiency, from 22% to 99%. One of the main reasons for this study was to see if there were new tools or emerging technology that regulators and industry could leverage to better test the control efficiency of these ECDs.

Due to varied results, DEQ and EPA began looking into a new method to better quantify ECD control performance, specifically using improved “Portable Analyzer” technology while following a much simpler outlet only test method.

Portable Analyzers have become standard equipment in the oil and gas fields and are typically used to perform maintenance or emissions checks on engines, not unlike how a car exhaust system might be tested. Simply by inserting the Portable Analyzer probe into an engine exhaust release point, or “stack,” the user gets a real-time output value for common pollutants such as nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. The Portable Analyzer has become an indispensable tool for production field engine maintenance and emission testing in recent years.

Using a simplified outlet-only method developed by DEQ Air Quality Engineer Jared Beck, the study found that Portable Analyzers could be used to better equip regulators during inspections for spot checks of combustion devices at production facilities. Portable Analyzers also can help industry in its continued efforts to meet all regulatory requirements while also significantly reducing costs and time associated with the traditional testing method.

Beck managed and spearheaded the study from the DEQ side, while working closely with the USEPA and industry partners to help guide the project to a successful completion.

Gov., officials break ground on Coal-to-Product ‘Innovation Center’

The Wyoming Innovation Center (WyIC), a 5,500-square-foot coal commercialization facility, has broken ground in Gillette, owner Energy Capital Economic Development (ECED) announced Monday, June 7.

The 9.5-acre site, located in northeast Wyoming’s coal-rich “Carbon Valley” region, will be home to companies and researchers developing commodities like asphalt, graphene, graphite, agricultural char, carbon fiber, and more – using coal and coal byproducts.

The state-of-the-art WyIC will feature two buildings and seven demonstration sites for pilot plants, for private companies and researchers to advance coal-to-product and rare earth element processes. The region holds 500 billion tons of recoverable coal, making it a desirable testbed for new and proven products made from coal.

WyIC’s first tenant is the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), which focuses on applied research for the production and use of clean energy resources.

Tenants at WyIC will focus on evaluating the commercial viability of high-value nonfuel, low- or zero-emissions products made from coal and extracting pivotal rare earth elements found in the fly ash of coal burned at local power plants. The region’s Powder River Basin coal contains high extractable rare earth element content in portions of the coal seams and also particularly in the coal ash materials produced at power plants – used in nuclear reactors, cell phones, magnets, camera lenses, wind turbines, electric cars and more. (The U.S. currently depends on China for as much as 97% of its rare earth element sources.)

Construction of the facility is expected to wrap in the fourth quarter of 2021. The completion of the facility will enable NETL’s pilot test to proceed – slated for completion in the third or fourth quarter of 2023.

The WyIC’s 4,000-square-foot building will provide office, lab and workspace for tenants – while a 1,500-square-foot building will be used to handle raw materials. The main draw, however, includes the seven half-acre demonstration sites that function as an open-access platform for tenants to upscale their lab-proven processes from using a few pounds of coal a day to process up to several hundred pounds of coal or coal byproducts daily.

The project, located on a reclaimed mine site, received a $1.5 million grant from the Wyoming Business Council, along with a $1.46 million matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). It also received funding from both the Gillette and Campbell County.

New lab, diagnostic equipment enables enhanced local testing capabilities

When the North Platte Valley Medical Center opens in Saratoga next year, it will have one of the most comprehensive and advanced CLIA-certified medical laboratories in the region, but for now, residents will benefit from an abundance of new lab capabilities at the Platte Valley Clinic.

Using money from a State Lands and Investment Board (SLIB) grant and the Corbett Medical Foundation, the Platte Valley Healthcare Project has purchased a long list of new diagnostic/imaging tools and lab equipment, some of which is being put to immediate use at the Platte Valley Clinic with the remainder scheduled to be installed in a new lab at the hospital when it’s complete. For now, the CLIA certification is for “moderate complexity” testing and analysis, but it will be certified for “high complexity” in the new hospital.

Lab Manager Allison Wright, who will head the new facility, says the new equipment will mean a lot to the community in terms of medical care and convenience. Aside from some lower complexity tests which have been performed in-house, all tests were being sent to a reference lab in Cheyenne for analysis. This can mean not only lengthy waits for the results, but it also increases the risk of lost, delayed or contaminated tests. The arrangement also creates a potential confusion for patients who routinely receive two medical bills for what may seem a single procedure to them.

Among the new lab equipment are fascinating high technology breakthroughs. One of these is the Butterfly iQ, a single-probe whole-body ultrasound system which is so portable it can be carried in a pocket. Wright said easy access to ultrasound capability will be an aid to thyroid, OB/GYN and complex vein procedures and will enable providers to, for example, determine if there is internal bleeding or aid in a complex IV blood draw. Wright said the device works with a smartphone, tablet and other devices.

Walmart selects 2021 Open Call Finalists, including three from Wyoming

In early June, Walmart decided on the finalists for its eighth annual Open Call event, with more than 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses receiving their official invitations to pitch their shelf-ready products to Walmart merchants.

It marks the largest number of business owners ever to take part in the one-day event. That includes three unidentified businesses with products manufactured in Wyoming that will be taking part.

Walmart will hold Open Call in a virtual format for the second year in a row, set for June 30. Suppliers representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will each have 30-minute one-on-one meetings with Walmart merchants, where they’ll have the opportunity to pitch their U.S. made, grown or assembled products.

Participants could secure deals ranging from a few local stores to supplying hundreds of Walmart and Sam’s Clubs locations, as well as Walmart.com and Walmart Marketplace.

Colorado defendant pleads guilty to defrauding investors

In early June, acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray announced that a Colorado man pleaded guilty to crimes arising from two schemes to defraud investors in Wyoming and around the country.

Robert William Mitchell, a.k.a. Bob Mitchell, 52, of Centennial, Colorado, entered guilty pleas to an indictment charging two separate-but-related investor frauds.

First, Mitchell pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud investors in a Wyoming natural gas production venture. According to court records, Mitchell solicited investments he claimed would be used to create a publicly traded, natural gas production company in Wyoming. Instead of developing any company or safeguarding the investors’ money, as promised, Mitchell used the money to pay his personal expenses and to finance the scheme. Mitchell stole more than $1.3 million from about three dozen investors, most of whom lived in and around Gillette.

Second, Mitchell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud in relation to the common stock of NuTech Energy Resources Inc. According to court records, Mitchell conspired to artificially inflate the market price of NuTech common stock by manipulative trading, and by releasing to the public false and misleading information about NuTech’s business prospects. Mitchell then sold his worthless NuTech shares to unwitting investors in the public market.

The indictment also charges three other men with crimes arising from the alleged conspiracy. These defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Their jury trial will begin on Sept. 20 in Cheyenne.

As a result of his guilty pleas, Mitchell may be sentenced to serve up to 25 years in prison, including three years of supervised release. In addition, he could face fines up to $250,000 and be ordered to pay restitution to the victims. Mitchell is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne on Aug. 4.

PacifiCorp contribution will assist with water quality efforts

Rock Creek originates in the northern fringe of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The creek flows north to its confluence with the Medicine Bow River. Along the creek, there were several areas of concern due to combined effects of sedimentation, flow alterations and drought.

“It is great to partner with a company like PacifiCorp on a stream enhancement project that will have so many benefits. The Rock Creek Project will help to maintain a stable creek channel, thus encouraging healthy riparian communities and promoting sustainable fish and wildlife habitat, along with assuring irrigation water delivery,” said Jack Berger, Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation Board of Trustees president, in a news release.

The Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation would like to thank PacifiCorp for its generous contribution to further the foundation’s mission to support community-driven conservation efforts.

“PacifiCorp's investment will directly fund the Rock Creek Stream Restoration and Fisheries Enhancement Project and will greatly contribute to the foundation's mission,” added Board Trustee Daniel Zyvoloski.

For more information about the project, go online to https://wynaturalresourcefoundation.com/what-we-do/community-conservation-2/.

Milestones

Mike Chiarulli was recently named the new executive director for Pointe Frontier Retirement Community in Cheyenne. Chiarulli comes to Pointe Frontier from Garden Plaza of Aurora, Colorado, where he served as maintenance director for four and a half years. Prior to that appointment, he was maintenance director for Brookdale Highlands Ranch in Colorado. He has seven years of experience in senior care and more than 10 years of management experience. “I love working with seniors,” said Chiarulli. “I love being able to assist them with all their needs and hear their stories.”

Make-A-Wish Wyoming recently recognized Sandi Riley of Cheyenne for her years of service as a volunteer. At a time when hope and joy are needed most, Riley continues to help make memorable experiences for wish kids. She has been helping grant wishes for 10 years this June. Her favorite part of the wish experience is getting to tell the family their wish is granted. She loves getting to know the family and then giving them the great news and seeing all their smiles.

McKensie Harris, an assistant lecturer in the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Animal Science, has received the Teacher of the Year award from the WYO-Gold student organization of the University of Wyoming Alumni Association. Harris was recognized for providing engaging instruction in food and meat science courses. Harris grew up near Laramie and received her undergraduate degree from UW. She earned her graduate degree in meat science from Texas A&M University and returned to UW as an instructor.

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