News Ticker


Investigating Feasibility of CO2 Capture and Underground Storage

Investigating Feasibility of CO2 Capture and Underground Storage
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced an $8.8 million award to the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) to investigate the feasibility of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions underground.

“We’re one of just three such feasibility projects awarded in the United States,” said Wes Peck, Principal Geologist and Geosciences Group Lead at the EERC.

The EERC will also receive a $1.2 million award to conduct a prefeasibility study focused on the capture and storage of CO2 emissions in Nebraska.

The $10 million contracts are part of the $44 million awarded by DOE through the Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise (CarbonSAFE) initiative. The goal is to help mitigate CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

“This is a great opportunity for UND and the EERC,” said Peck. “The projects will benefit the state and the region.”

Coal production is one of North Dakota’s largest industries, and about 30 million tons of lignite is mined each year. With one of the largest reserves of lignite in the world, North Dakota has enough coal to produce energy for 835 years, according to the Bismarck State College Energy Center for Excellence.

Burning coal to fuel power plants and other industrial activities emits CO2, and the nation has been seeking ways to mitigate CO2 emissions.

Underground Storage

One idea is to capture the carbon and store it underground. Is it feasible? That’s what DOE wants to find out.

EERC researchers will investigate the feasibility of capturing emissions from coal-fired plants, compressing the CO2, and injecting it a mile deep underground. One of the most promising sites is the Broom Creek Formation in Oliver and Mercer Counties in central North Dakota.

If viable, the site could eventually store 2 million metric tons of CO2 per year for 25 years—a total of 50 million metric tons that would not be emitted into the atmosphere.

“There is no oil there,” said Peck, “and it’s not used for any other resources.” The water in the rock formation, he added, is saltier than that in the ocean and well below any potential drinking water.

A major aspect of this project is to acquire new geologic information about the Broom Creek Formation. This will include drilling two exploratory wells into the formation to gather rock samples.

“Drilling the holes will be relatively easy compared to most drilling in western North Dakota, said Peck. “Bakken drillers go 10,000 feet down and 10,000 feet horizontally,” he said. “We’re only going 5800 feet down. They’ll use a smaller rig.”

The project will not actually inject any CO2 into the formation; it will just examine the feasibility of the project and the site. If the results are promising, more research will be done.

The prefeasibility study being conducted in Nebraska will investigate the deep geologic storage opportunities for CO2 emissions from the coal-fired Nebraska Public Power District’s Gerald Gentleman Station, about 300 miles west of Omaha.

Working Together

The EERC has a long history of working well with DOE, said Peck. The EERC's work on clean coal-burning technology and geologic storage of CO2 has resulted in great working relationships with federal agencies, industry, and others.

“We have a compelling story. We have a great team at the Center, with experience working on other DOE projects,” he said. “We have a great working relationship with energy industries in the state.

– Jan Orvik, UND Today

DoD Announces $1.8M Award to Reduce Water Consumption in Its Facilities

DoD Announces $1.8M Award to Reduce Water Consumption
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced a $1.8 million contract with the EERC to reduce the water consumption of DoD facilities that use evaporative cooling towers to provide cooling for air conditioners, power stations, data centers, and other industrial facilities. The project, entitled “Hygroscopic Cooling Tower for Reduced Water Consumption,” will span a 3-year time period, covering several project milestones.

“This was a very competitive Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) opportunity under the U.S. DoD,” said Tom Erickson, EERC CEO. “Congratulations to our team for not only the innovative technology concept but the high-quality proposal.”

Cooling towers are intensive consumers of water, yet they are also potential energy-saving devices and can be important system components to meet combined energy- and water-saving goals.

As part of the project, two demonstration units of a novel cooling tower technology designed to restrict water evaporation will be tested at sites that are characterized by “hot, dry” and “hot, humid” summer weather.

The technology will attempt to strike a better balance between wet and dry cooling so that the benefits of wet evaporative cooling can be applied during hot summer afternoons, but the evaporated water loss can be restricted during cooler times when conditions allow for efficient sensible heat transfer to the air.

“The concept behind this project is to seamlessly vary the amount of sensible versus latent heat transfer in response to changing ambient weather conditions,” said Chris Martin, Senior Research Engineer, Advanced Thermal Systems. “In this mode of operation, the maximum amount of water can be saved for any combination of cooling temperature set point and ambient air temperature. This technology is expected to greatly expand the potential for water savings in traditionally wet-cooled applications.”

Annual performance data will be collected and will include water savings, cooling efficacy, and operational costs. The results will help DoD energy managers estimate the technology’s cost-saving potential, understand its operations and maintenance requirements, and identify potential integration strategies.

For more information on the EERC's water programs, click here.

Introducing Dr. Nicholas Azzolina

EERC Nick AzzolinaThe EERC welcomes Dr. Nicholas Azzolina as a Principal Hydrogeologist and Statistician, where he performs statistical data analysis and supports projects related to CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR), CO2 storage, unconventional oil and gas production, and chemical contamination of environmental media (soil, groundwater, and sediment). Nick also specializes in conducting life cycle assessments for carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) projects and leads risk assessments for CO2 storage, EOR, and other subsurface projects.

Nick is a hydrogeologist and statistician with 20 years of industrial and consulting experience, specializing in statistical analysis and modeling of large, complex environmental data sets. He holds a B.A. degree in Geological and Geophysical Sciences from Princeton University, an M.S. degree in Hydrogeology from Syracuse University, and a Ph.D. degree in Environmental Management and Science from Carnegie Mellon University.

“It wasn’t really until the middle of my career when I began to focus on hydrogeology and statistics,” Nick recalled. “I was working on projects where we collected a large amount of data. I needed to find ways to both analyze the data and present the information graphically. There was not a lot of expertise for analyzing these types of data sets, so I read a few books and experimented with various software programs, and I found that I have a knack for this sort of thing. For the past 10 years, the majority of my project work has involved statistical data analysis of large environmental data sets.”

Prior to joining the EERC, Nick was Principal and Cofounder of The CETER Group, Inc., a scientific consulting firm, where he worked with the EERC on various projects for over the last decade, several in support of its Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership, investigating CO2 storage for EOR fields, life cycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil and gas development, and project risk analysis for large-scale geologic storage of CO2.

“Everyone at the EERC has always made me feel very welcome, so I already feel like I’ve been working here for a long time. Far-and-away my favorite thing about the EERC is the people,” Nick said. “I also find the technical areas very interesting—CO2 storage, EOR, and Bakken production and optimization—to name a few. I think that the EERC is at the nexus of energy development and climate change research, and that’s a space where I want to work.”

Nick also appreciates the EERC’s team-based approach. “The types of projects that are emerging are very cross-disciplinary, requiring input from software engineers, geologists, chemists, reservoir modelers, statisticians, and many other types of ‘ologists.’ No single person can be an expert in all of these areas; project teams are critical. The EERC has the requisite in-house experience to assemble these types of teams, and I am excited to play my part in the team’s success.”

Nick and his wife have two boys, ages 10 and 11, and a teenaged daughter, age 14, all on competitive swim teams. Originally from Easton, Pennsylvania, Nick enjoys exercise and hiking and tries to take at least one trip each year to a national park. Nick says he’s one of those lucky people whose career and hobby align: he spends most of his free time reading books on statistics, geology, and related fields.

A Fond Farewell to Mike Holmes, Who Joins Lignite Energy Council

EERC Mike Holmes Lignite Energy CouncilThe Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) congratulates Mike Holmes, former Director of Energy Systems Development, who recently joined the Lignite Energy Council (LEC) as Vice President of Research and Development.

Holmes worked at the EERC for more than 15 years building successful programs in fossil energy research. During that time, he received LEC’s Distinguished Service Awards for both Government Action Program (Regulatory) (2005) and Research and Development (2003). His areas of expertise include CO2 capture; fuel processing; gasification systems for coproduction of hydrogen, fuels, and chemicals with electricity; process development and economics for advanced energy systems; and emission control (air toxics, SO2, NOx, H2S, and particulate technologies).

“We greatly appreciate Mike’s time here at the EERC and his dedicated work advancing innovative solutions in fossil energy,” said EERC CEO Tom Erickson. “While we are sad to see him go, this isn’t good-bye for long—we very much look forward to working with him in his new position. LEC has long been a key strategic partner, and this will lead to even more opportunities in the future.”

In his new role, Holmes will lead LEC’s R&D program, which partners the state and the lignite industry to demonstrate how lignite facilities can be cleaner and more efficient. A major emphasis has been placed on projects to reduce nitrogen oxides, mercury, and carbon dioxide from plant emissions. This work provides LEC members with a central focus for innovation and expertise that can be shared among companies.

The LEC’s R&D program also helps maintain jobs and increases economic activity and tax revenue to state and local government entities. In addition to R&D, studies regarding the market size for lignite-based products, such as beneficiated lignite, provide value to the lignite industry.

Social Cause Committee Guides the Giving

Like most people, our employees work for a greater purpose and believe that their work makes a difference in the world’s energy future. Additionally, they are focused on making a local impact and are engaged and generous supporters of social causes on campus and in the community.

EERC Spin For Kids Social CauseThe United Way, UND’s Thanksgiving Mortar Board, Tubs of Love, Relay for Life, and the Adopt-a-Family Program through the Grand Forks schools are just a few of the charitable organizations that regularly benefit from EERC employees giving of their time and money, and EERC employees have always banded together to hold fund-raisers to help individual families in need.

In 2016, the EERC Social Cause Committee, a grassroots organization sanctioned by EERC leadership, was born of employees’ desire to channel their efforts to create an even bigger community impact. The Committee chose the Altru Health Foundation as its designated charity that year. In April of 2016, a number of EERC employees participated in the annual Spin for Kids fundraiser put on by Altru Health System’s Outpatient Pediatric Therapy to raise funds for families with children who have special needs and lifelong medical expenses. The EERC Energy Stars team raised $5400—the second largest amount raised by a team.

EERC Spin for Kids Social CauseThe EERC’s designated charity for 2017 will be the Northlands Rescue Mission.

“The Committee will be sponsoring events such as money drives and food drives to support multiple programs at the Mission, including their homeless shelter and Backpack Program, which provides students from struggling families with bags of food to take home over the weekend,” said Committee Chair Amanda Livers, EERC Research Scientist, Geophysics. “In addition to these events, the Committee will be spearheading a volunteer initiative that will allow EERC employees to have a hands-on role in helping the multiple groups in the community that are supported by the Mission.”

Introducing Austin McRae

The EERC welcomes T. Austin McRae as a Research Engineer, where he is involved with process engineering and design for wellsite operations, pipeline transport, and environmental science related to oilfield operations. He holds a B.S. degree in Petroleum Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

Austin’s principal areas of interest and expertise include petroleum industry operations and support, specifically well stimulation; enhancing coordination between energy industry and environmental efforts through improved technology, practice, and understanding; and advanced energy technologies.

“I am most excited about working with a team of dedicated and diverse individuals to understand and solve energy-related issues in a scientific and responsible manner,” Austin said. “The warm and friendly welcome from the EERC staff so far has further added to my enthusiasm moving into this new career path.”

Previously, Austin worked as a Field Engineer in the hydraulic fracturing division of Baker Hughes Pressure Pumping in New Mexico and Texas, mainly in the Delaware and Midland Basins. Austin’s primary responsibilities involved assisting in job design and pre-job planning, monitoring pressure readouts and job parameters, and generating posttreatment and regulatory reports. Key functions of his position and the engineering department included ensuring quality technical product and service delivery through laboratory and field fluid system testing, technician management, on-site job monitoring, and customer interaction.

Austin said he became aware of the oil industry quite early, being a child of two career industry professionals. Throughout high school, he gravitated toward physics and earth sciences, specifically enjoying a geology elective.

“Instead of following my parents down the geoscience route, I pursued petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines,” he said. “Since then I’ve been continually captivated by the engineering, complex operating conditions, continuous improvements, and challenges of today’s petroleum and broader energy environment.”

Raised in New Orleans from an early age, Austin said he is finding the cold weather here “quite refreshing” after an 80° November in New Orleans. However, he expects that he will miss the food there, especially the seafood.

“No other place I’ve visited in the country or the world has come close to matching the broad range of culinary influence and extensive quality of New Orleans cuisine,” he said. “I’ll also miss the laidback, near-constant celebratory atmosphere as well as easy access to world-class inshore and offshore fishing.”

In addition to fishing, Austin’s interests outside of work include hiking, “attempting to play golf,” swimming, and other “generally leisurely” outdoor activities. He also enjoys traveling, meeting new people, reading, seeking out and sampling local beer, going to the movies, and “just about anything Star Wars.”

Introducing Neil Wildgust

The EERC is pleased to welcome Neil Wildgust as a Principal CCS Scientist. In this position, he leads projects and risk assessment activities related to CO2 storage and enhanced oil recovery (EOR), working with team members to prepare and lead proposals and develop and manage project scopes of work, objectives, personnel, and budgets. His areas of interest and expertise include carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCS); EOR; and project management. He holds an M.Sc. degree in Applied Environmental Geology from Cardiff University, Wales, and a B.Sc. degree in Geology from the University of Southampton, England.

Prior to joining the EERC, Neil was the Manager for Geological Storage with the Global CCS Institute, responsible for leading the storage advisory team across the institute and managing relationships with Canadian members. He has also worked for the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme (IEAGHG) and for the Petroleum Technology Research Centre, managing the IEAGHG Weyburn–Midale research project.

In addition to Neil’s experience with CCS projects and research across the world, he is a chartered geologist (United Kingdom) and has 25 years of industrial experience in mining, land contamination, and hydrogeology. He has also recently been appointed an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control.

Neil’s interest in CCS came about almost by chance. In the mid-2000s, he was working as a hydrogeologist for power utility EON in the UK. His supervisor was an air quality scientist responsible for tracking developments in CCS technology.

“He sent me to the 2006 GHGT conference in Trondheim, Norway, to learn about CO2 geologic storage. The sheer scale of ambitions for CCS—the challenge of isolating huge quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere over a small number of decades to mitigate impacts on the climate—had me hooked very quickly,” Neil said.

“My bias has inevitably been toward the storage side of CCS over the last decade. If capture is the expensive part of most CCS projects, storage is usually the uncertain part, and there are a great range of technical advances being researched to better manage and reduce these uncertainties. EOR remains the predominant form of storage and a key driver for the wider deployment of CCS,” he added.

“The PCOR Partnership has an outstanding reputation well beyond the United States and Canada, and Bell Creek has provided the EERC and the PCOR Partnership with a world-class storage research project, so I’m excited to have the chance to get involved in those efforts,” said Neil.

“The location of the EERC at the heart of a resource-rich region, together with expertise and facilities covering so many aspects of applied energy research, is a powerful combination. The EERC has a reputation of working closely with industry clients and striving to exceed expectations. My first weeks here have impressed on me how deeply ingrained this culture is within the organization,” he remarked.

Neil and his wife have four grown children and two granddaughters who all live in the UK. Holidays and time together on either side of the Atlantic are precious, he said, and “usually crammed with as much fun as possible to keep everyone happy.” Neil spent “vast swaths” of spare time playing cricket and “real football” (soccer) in the past but declared he has retired from both.