The Wyoming Integrated Test Center near Gillette is celebrating the completion of its pivotal role in a multimillion-dollar, worldwide contest to expand carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technologies. The WITC provides a unique opportunity to transfer these sciences from a laboratory setting into the real world, supporting technology targeted toward both environmental considerations and bolstering the state’s fossil fuel-based economy.
The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE began in September of 2015, offering a $20 million prize purse to teams that design and engineer the best carbon technologies. WITC Managing Director Jason Begger said phase one of the six-year competition consisted of written proposals flooding in from 47 teams spanning eight different countries. Thirty were selected for small-scale lab testing. Of those, 10 teams advanced to phase three and applied their technology to real-world scenarios. Five teams used emissions from a natural gas power plant in Canada, and five came to WITC to access coal-based emissions.
“The (WITC) itself is simple in concept, but expensive to actually have,” Begger said. “We are able to tap into the power plant exhaust and divert 5% of the plant’s emissions to a pipe that goes to eight testing areas at the ITC.”
Having access to flu gases and space available to test technologies makes the Gillette facility, which operates in a public-private partnership between the state of Wyoming, Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association a gem in the way forward for the fossil fuel industry. It is one of a handful of facilities around the world and one of two in the United States.
Contest hosts from NRG Energy and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance announced an award of $7.5 million to CarbonBuilt, a team comprised of researchers at UCLA who came to Wyoming to take captured emissions from an operating coal-fired power plant and inject scavenged carbon dioxide into concrete, thus cutting the carbon footprint of concrete manufacturing in half. In the scenario implemented by CarbonBuilt, carbon dioxide scavenged from flu gases at the coal plant were injected into the concrete mixture and chemically transformed for permanent storage/reutilization in the form of construction blocks.
Conventionally manufactured cement is the world’s largest material industry and accounts for 8% of all carbon dioxide emissions. CarbonBuilt provides a striking conceptualization: if the concrete industry were a country, it would be the third-largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world behind China and the United States.
CarbonBuilt concrete blocks are as strong and durable as those made with traditional materials, and each one stores three-quarters of a pound of CO2. The company hopes to produce one trillion blocks by 2027, which, if that happens, will represent a huge diversion of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.
In addition to supporting initiatives for environmental sustainability, carbon capture and utilization technology represents a lifeline to the state of Wyoming’s energy economy.
“Carbon capture means different things to different people,” Begger said.
“There are those that feel like carbon needs to be captured and managed at any cost because of the environment. Here in Wyoming, our jobs, our tax base, school funding – all of those things – are tied to fossil fuel revenue,” Begger said, pinpointing the multi-faceted vested interest the state has with carbon technologies.
“Finding alternative, economic uses of carbon dioxide is paramount to the success of (carbon capture, utilization and sequestration) in Wyoming and across the nation,” said Gov. Mark Gordon. “I am also hopeful this is just the first of many opportunities for us to work collaboratively to provide technical solutions to CO2 capture challenges in Wyoming.”
“Technology advancement drives economic development and cleaner energy,” agreed Tri-State CEO Duane Highley. “As more innovators come to Wyoming to evaluate technologies, the work of the ITC will continue to deliver important results.”
“Wyoming’s work with carbon capture technologies doesn’t end with this,” Begger said. “There’s a lot we are working on and working with, and the coming year is going to be exciting.”