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The 2020 Energy Hawks Take Flight

Left to right, Top row: Xueling Song, Hayden Drown, Elysia Taniguchi
Middle: Jacob Nelson, Atique, Rijana Adhikari, Colton Martin
Bottom: Umar Saeed, Auroura Eckberg, Ben Regorrah, Md. Saifur Rahman

What happens when you bring together 11 multidisciplinary, energetic students from across the globe to the Energy & Environmental Research Center for a summer internship immersed in energy and creative ideas? You get the 2020 Energy Hawks!

The 2020 Energy Hawks Program will conquer a new challenge: operating fully remotely. This year’s students began their multidisciplinary studies online with the EERC at the end of May. The program has also expanded its student base to include students from Bismarck State College and North Dakota State University in addition to the University of North Dakota. The 2020 Energy Hawks are as follows.

Xueling Song
BS Petroleum Engineering, pursuing Petroleum Engineering PhD at Univeristy of North Dakota (UND)
Qingdao, China

Hayden Drown
AS Liberal Arts and Sciences, pursuing Physics, Astrophysics, Mathematics MS/BS at UND
Roseau, Minnesota (MN)

Elysia Taniguchi
Quantitative Economics major, Mathematics minor at North Dakota State University (NDSU)
Minot, North Dakota (ND)

Jacob Nelson
Physics and Philosophy majors at UND
Forman, ND

Md. Saifuddin Ahgmed Atique
BS Aeronautical Engineering, pursuing Mechanical Engineering PhD at UND
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Rijana Adhikari
MBA, BBA, pursing Applied Economics MSAE at UND
Bhaktupur, Nepal

Colton Martin
Political Science major at Bismarck State College (BSC)
Anamoose, ND

Mian Umar Saeed
MS, BS Mechanical Engineering, pursuing Mechanical Engineering PhD at UND
Peshawar, Pakistan

Auroura Eckberg
Chemical Engineering major, Political Science minor at the UND
Detroit Lakes, MN

Benjamin Regorrah
Mathematics and Statistics majors, Biology minor at UND
East Grand Forks, MN

Md. Saifur Rahman
BS Computer Science & Telecommunication Engineering, pursuing Computer Science PhD at UND
Noakhali, Bangladesh

Energy Storage Opportunity Results from SERC

Last summer, ten projects were initiated through funding from the State Energy Research Center (SERC) at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), and a project focused on energy production and supply processes in North Dakota has recently been completed. 

Energy production and supply processes are constantly changing, challenging utilities to respond to fluctuating grid demands. As electrical production and distribution evolve, the associated technology must adapt to maintain grid stability. Energy storage (ES) systems have the potential to alleviate the need to rapidly adjust for fluctuating energy generation resources, such as wind and solar, and electrical demand, reducing the overall strain on the electrical grid and the strain on fossil-based energy systems. 

A large portion of North Dakota’s coal-fired power plants and other utilities face challenges responding to rapid changes in grid supply and demand because of the intermittent operation of renewable energy resources. The inclusion of ES systems could alleviate the need to frequently increase the output of coal-fired systems when adjusting for variable demand and supply fluctuation, taking up excess energy and storing it for times of high demand. 

“Energy storage is growing as a topic of discussion and research, both in the public and private sectors, and it’s really exciting that we were afforded the opportunity to begin researching energy storage as part of SERC,” said John Brunner, Principal Investigator for the project. 

The EERC evaluated twenty different ES technologies to compare the advantages and disadvantages they provide and ascertain their viability. The technologies stem from concepts storing multiple forms of energy, including mechanical, chemical, electrochemical, and more. Analysis revealed hydrogen energy storage and two forms of thermal energy storage to be the most reliable and efficient ways to store energy for semi-long-term needs. 

Follow-up work in ES will include further analysis and development of technology models and a greater look into the system characteristics of integrating ES technologies at both power plant and electrical grid scale. National efforts are currently focused on the utilization of ES with fossil-based energy generation assets, such as coal or natural gas power plants. However, as renewables such as wind and solar energy become a greater part of the electrical grid, ES will become a vital part of those systems to regulate their intermittent nature of operation.

In Situ Leaching Potential in North Dakota

In the summer of 2019, ten projects were initiated through funding from the State Energy Research Center (SERC) at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC). Recently, one project was completed focused on in situ extraction of rare-earth elements (REEs) from North Dakota coal. 

“When I had the idea to use in situ leaching with North Dakota coal, I though it fit the desire to seek ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas. I didn’t know what the outcome would be since this type of work hasn’t been investigated yet,” said Ian Feole of the EERC. “The feeling of succeeding when you were unsure of the potential outcome made the whole project even more rewarding.”

REEs consist of the lanthanide series of elements with atomic numbers from 57 to 71, plus yttrium (Y) and scandium (Sc). Because of their unique properties, REEs are crucial materials used in an incredible array of consumer goods, energy system components, and military defense applications. However, the United States is currently 100% reliant on Chinese imports of these critical materials, and the REE market is considered an issue of national security. Identifying and developing alternative domestic sources of REEs and methods developed to produce them are of high interest. Recently, coal and coal by-products have been identified as promising alternative resources. 

To date, the explored methods of extraction require coal to be mined from the ground and processed further through crushing, grinding, and coal cleaning prior to leaching to extract the REEs. However, coal seams that contain the highest levels of REEs identified in North Dakota are in areas not currently being mined in the extreme southwestern portion of the state. The possibility also exists that deeper coal seams not economical for surface mining may contain high concentrations of REEs and critical minerals. One alternative REE extraction technique that may address both limitations is in situ leaching (ISL). 

ISL, also known as in situ recovery (ISR) or solution mining, is a process by which a solution is injected into an ore body that leaches out the target mineral(s) from the ore. The mineral-laden solution is then brought to the surface from a production well. Next, the solution is processed to remove the targeted minerals. ISL causes minimal disturbance to the environmental structures. 

Testing showed that recovery of REEs from coal ranged from 5% to 9% of available REEs in the coal, while other valuable metals such as Manganese, Nickel, Cobalt, and Germanium provided greater variation in extraction percentage. Variations in pH, strength, and type of acid used for extraction from the coal were identified as crucial aspects in designing an extraction process. Economically, metals other than REEs provided the bulk of the value of the extracted material. Of the REEs, Scandium was recovered at the lowest percentage but has the greatest value. Future research is being pursued to maximize the recovery rate of REEs and high-value metals to enhance the economic potential and should also include site-specific investigation into potential coal seams for ISL operation.

SERC Project Focuses on EMP Impact

In the summer of 2019, ten projects were initiated through funding from the State Energy Research Center (SERC) at the EERC. One project that was recently completed focused on the effect of natural and man-made electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) on North Dakota infrastructure.

“This project was very exciting as it gave us the opportunity to move beyond hype and Hollywood representations of EMPs and begin to truly understand the issue and the scope of its effect,” said Principal Investigator John Kay. His project focused on identifying the potential effects of an EMP on North Dakota’s electrical grid. The EERC compiled a declassified list of available technologies and services, in relation to protection from EMPs. 

EMPs represent a significant threat to the national security of the United States. EMPs are caused by both man-made and natural phenomenon: high-altitude electromagnetic pulses (HEMPs) and geomagnetic disturbances (GMDs), respectively. Both types can cause massive harm to the electrical grid, critical communications infrastructure, and any electronic devices within the EMP’s affected zone. The electrical grid is especially susceptible because the long transmission wires of the grid act as antenna for the EMP, collecting and concentrating its energy. 

The federal government has issued directives to combat susceptibility to EMPs, beginning in 2013 with President Obama and continuing through 2019 with President Trump. The Obama order was largely to promote awareness and discussion about susceptibilities, and the Trump order establishes the roles and responsibilities of the federal government, as well as specific actions. Despite the recent efforts of the federal government to coordinate EMP protection efforts, little coordination or communication is occurring between federal and regional groups or at the regional level between critical infrastructure owners and operators, regulatory agencies, and state and local governments. Some organizations are working to understand EMPs and mitigation efforts, but utilities and other regional organizations are slower to act. The EERC project recommends that better communication be established between entities at the regional level, as well as between the regional and federal levels. 

“There is an overabundance of misinformation available to the general public that really confuses the problem and the solution,” said Kay. “The results of the work performed showed us that communication across all facets of the state, region, and country is strongly needed to reduce effects of an electromagnetic pulse on infrastructure and to keep people safe. We cannot prevent a pulse, but proper planning can reduce the effect on our lives afterward.” Follow-up work from this effort is now supporting regional conversations on EMP protection and recovery.

EERC Welcomes Tyler Niederwerder

Tyler Niederwerder is a Contracts Officer at the EERC, where he prepares, reviews, negotiates, and administers a variety of sponsored agreements, subcontract agreements, and confidentiality agreements in accordance with federal and nonfederal contractual requirements, government and university regulations and policies, and EERC policies. He holds a J.D. degree from the UND School of Law and a B.A. degree in English from UND.

“My favorite part of working at the EERC so far has been getting to know my colleagues and the collaborative nature of the entire staff,” said Tyler. “I love being able to do really interesting work and to continue being a part of UND, the wonderful institution I called home throughout my academic years.” 

Tyler credits his interest in working at the EERC to his time spent in the oil fields of western North Dakota between college and law school. He said, “My time out there really made me appreciate the energy industry. The EERC is on the cutting edge of energy; I jumped at the chance to be a part of that.” Tyler also said the EERC’s reputation as an outstanding place to work has more than lived up to his expectations so far. 

Tyler grew up in a small town near Rapid City, South Dakota. His parents ran a small business from their home and also owned a small cattle ranch. He appreciates that his childhood provided him with plenty of space to roam outdoors. 

Tyler has two children, ages 4 and 2, that keep him busy. When he has free time, Tyler enjoys biking outside and getting back into running. He also hopes to begin hunting again and would like to try fishing.

Exploring New Solutions for Wind Turbine Blades

Wind farms began popping up in the 1990s and many turbines are reaching the end of their 20-30-year useful lives now. The challenge of wind turbine blade disposal has captured attention around the world, and a team at the EERC led by Joshua Strege, Principal Process Engineer, has received State Energy Research Center funding to address the need for further research into the recycling or repurposing potential of blades in North Dakota.

Difficulties for disposal include transportation, destruction, and landfilling of decommissioned blades. Strege is hoping to fill the growing demand for novel technologies to avoid landfill disposal of retired blades by finding ways each section could be repurposed to create new, high-value products. There is added public relations pressure to find a solution for keeping a renewable energy source as green as possible.

Currently, the most common method for dealing with used wind blades in the United States is landfill disposal. In Europe, blades are crushed, then burned in cement kilns. Neither of these options is ideal: Landfill disposal is not sustainable due to the size of the blades, and much of the blade structure is poorly combustible. Blades can be resold if they are still in good working order, but this is not always an option. Because blades vary so much from section to section, the ideal solution to reusing blades will likely involve separating blades into different product streams.

“I’m interested in seeing what the different components could be repurposed as—I’m not set on one specific product at this point,” said Strege. “There’s potential for reuse in something that could use the retained strength of fiberglass, instead of trying to break it down or sending whole blades to landfills.”

North Dakota has more than 1,500 turbines, with a typical turbine able to produce up to 1.5 megawatts of energy. A single blade from one of these towers can be more than 110 ft long and weigh over 6 tons. Upgrades will soon be reaching North Dakota’s turbines, and a better solution to one of the wind industry’s biggest challenges could be coming as well. As public pressure grows to find new uses for aged blades, a recycling industry will inevitably develop at some point. Finding secondary values from blades would help offset costs for decommissioning and disposing of blades in North Dakota and could set the state ahead of the curve in developing a blade recycling infrastructure.

Core Value Award Recipients

Left to right: Kari Lindemann, Kyle Glazewski, Lonny Jacobson, Kari Suedel, Rachael Perriello
In 2019, we began awarding our employees for their amazing efforts in our five core values: to be safe, ethical, engaged, effective, and professional. We are proud to share our 2020 award recipients with you.

Be Safe: Lonny Jacobson – Principal Operations Specialist
Lonny has created a culture of safety within his team. He is constantly engaging in his team’s projects and uses his knowledge to coach others on the hazards they could face. He prioritizes resources to create a safer work environment and is actively taking steps to grow not just a “safety first” mentality but a “safety ALWAYS” mentality. 

Be Ethical: Rachael Perriello – Environment, Health, and Safety Specialist
While there are often quicker ways to finish a job, shortcuts or new avenues could create risky situations for our teams. Rachael reminds us all that we are to do the right thing, always, even if it isn’t the easiest way. She has had numerous opportunities to take shortcuts or make complications go away but has instead held herself, and her colleagues, to the highest ethical standards. 

Be Engaged: Kari Suedel – Senior Digital Media Specialist and Photographer 
Kari has infused tremendous enthusiasm into not only her group but many others. She is continuously filled with fresh ideas and better ways to share the EERC with everyone she can. She was a leader in the recent conversion of our website and has earned the respect of many of our clients through her graphic arts and media services. 

Be Effective: Kari Lindemann – Lead Research Information Associate
Kari is a leader in all efforts in proposals and reporting. She has worked countless hours after closing to ensure products make it to their destinations in perfect form. Kari is always effective and excels at her job with a great smile and attitude. Beyond her normal duties, she also leads one of our largest engagement events every year. 

Be Professional: Kyle Glazewski – Senior Analyst, Geographic Information System Team Lead
A word chosen to represent Kyle was “inspiring.” He inspires others with his integrity, interpersonal skills, respect for others, and leadership every day. These qualities are matched with consistently high-quality and timely technical results. He selflessly mentors, encourages, and advocates for employees across all teams, and strives to help others be the best professionals they can be. 

We are thankful to have such wonderful employees who do work they can be proud of every day!

EERC Welcomes Yang Yu

Dr. Yang Yu is a Research Scientist at the EERC, where he conducts laboratory analyses and interprets laboratory data to support research activities related to improved production of unconventional oil and gas reservoirs, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in unconventional and conventional formations, and subsurface storage of CO2 and/or rich gas. He holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Petroleum Engineering from Texas Tech University and a B.S. degree in Petroleum Engineering from Northeast Petroleum University, Daqing, China. Prior to his position at the EERC, Yang served as an R&D Project Specialist with Porous Materials, Inc., Ithaca, New York.

Yang’s principal areas of interest and expertise include reservoir engineering, unconventional reservoir development, EOR, and rock and fluid properties analysis. He serves as a reviewer for Journal of Natural Gas Science and Engineering, the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, SPE Production & Operations, the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, and Applied Nanoscience. He has authored or coauthored numerous peer-reviewed and other professional publications.

“I really enjoy the working atmosphere at the EERC; it’s like a big family. Everyone is friendly and helpful,” said Yang. “I was given an ambassador when I started, and I appreciate that they are helping me grow into my role and adapt to the new working and living environments.”

Yang heard about the EERC from a current employee and became interested in his role at the EERC when he saw the opportunity for his work to support and promote carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). “I’m excited to be in a position where I can make use of my current skills and capabilities. I also have the opportunity to keep learning and enhancing my abilities by participating in multiple projects.”

Yang grew up in Daqing, Heilongjiang Province, China, which he said has a similar climate to Grand Forks, making it an easier adjustment. He enjoys spending time outdoors and activities like hiking, skating, and fishing. He also likes to get together with friends and barbeque when he can