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EERC Teams with GF Public Schools to Brighten the Holiday Season

This holiday season, employees of the EERC generously contributed to the Adopt-a-Family Program, now in its 15th year, to brighten the holidays for local families in need. Social workers with the Grand Forks Public School District identify families unable to afford gifts for their children during the holidays. EERC employees sponsored two families this year, providing clothing, household items, toys, gas cards, bus passes, and gift cards.


Sue Bartley, EERC Human Resources Manager and liaison to the Adopt-a-Family Program, and Barb Kitko, social worker with the Grand Forks School District, along with a team of EERC employees, helped to collect, wrap, and load all of the gifts for delivery.

“Our employees are so generous that families usually get everything on their lists and more,” said Bartley. “Once again, we were able to give toys and gift cards to additional families as well.”

“The EERC has always done a fantastic job helping make Christmas special for some of the larger families,” said Kitko. “Christmas can be really trying on the ‘working poor.’ These families are working hard just to make ends meet and aren’t getting services from anywhere else. It’s not always possible to stretch the budget for gifts and ‘extras,’ even at the holidays.”

FEATURED TECHNOLOGY: Carbon Capture Demonstration System

Concerns over the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from combustion sources on global climate change have prompted numerous research and development projects aimed at developing cost-effective technologies for CO2 capture. Currently, no technologies have achieved significant commercial demonstration for the capture of CO2 from large combustion point sources such as a coal-fired power plant. 

However, the EERC's Partnership for CO2 Capture (PCO2C) is conducting a pilot-scale demonstration to test select CO2 separation and capture technologies for fossil fuel- and biomass-fired systems. The project is aimed at providing project sponsors with key technical and economic information that can be used to examine the feasibility of technologies as a function of fuel type and system configuration. 

View the product summary by clicking the image below.

Carbon Capture Demonstration System

For more information on the EERC's CO2 Capture System and how it is helping create tools for managing CO2 capture decisions, contact John Kay, EERC Senior Research Manager, at (701) 777-4580 or jkay@undeerc.org.

The CO2 Challenge: Economical Capture, Utilization, and Storage

Author: John Kay, EERC Senior Research Manager

Much debate has surrounded anthropogenic (man-made) sources of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, and their link to global climate change. The argument over this concept has moved into the international political structure and is now a major driver of policy. Although the long-term impacts of climate change, both ecologically and sociologically, are being debated rigorously, worldwide goals for reducing CO2emissions are moving forward as are regulations. In the United States, many questions confront utilities as to how to comply with proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission regulations and still provide affordable power.

Anthropogenic CO2 is a by-product of almost everything humans do, including breathing. Large stationary sources of CO2 are the focus of EPA’s emission limits. Electric utilities, petroleum and gas processing, ag-related processing, and industry, such as cement and steel plants, are the largest point sources of CO2, and entire books have been written on their potential influence on the world’s climate. This article will focus on the coal-fired power generation sector and the challenges it faces with CO2 emissions.

The scale of CO2 emissions from U.S. power generation is large. One metric ton of coal used to fuel electricity production produces 2.0 to 2.4 metric tons of CO2. A typical coal-fired power plant will consume hundreds of metric tons of coal an hour, depending on coal type and plant size. The U.S. electricity industry alone has a very large carbon footprint, given that there were 1308 coal-fired units across 557 locations in the United States (as of the end of 2012). In fact, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. coal-fired fleet emitted over 1.5 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2012. For the spectrum of generation units across the country, this translates to hundreds of thousands to millions of metric tons of CO2 emitted annually by each plant. Nonetheless, the U.S. represents only about an eighth of the world’s coal use, and that fraction is rapidly diminishing as domestic use stabilizes and international use continues to grow.

The use of coal for electricity generation is unlikely to be significantly reduced in the foreseeable future. Since the Industrial Revolution, coal has been the foundation for many of the technological advances the world has enjoyed and is so firmly enmeshed that it is simply impossible to quit using coal “cold turkey.” Coal is a fossil fuel, like oil and natural gas, and is part of our nation’s energy security. It is abundant and can be used efficiently and in an environmentally sound manner to meet energy needs. The IEA projects that the use of coal will remain steady and continue to be the foundation of energy production, not only for the United States but for the world, for decades to come.

Anthropogenic CO2 can be captured and sent to storage before it enters the atmosphere (direct sequestration) or after it has entered the atmosphere (indirect sequestration). 

The discussion of CO2 in the power generation sector has to be fully laid out for context. Various aspects of the process can be found in all of the major publications, but the integrated process—CO2 capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)—must be considered in its entirety. When each aspect is viewed separately, the overall process appears generic and not representative of a given situation. To achieve an accurate representation, a fully integrated process must be considered. Discussion of CO2 capture involves the discussion of plant size, existing emission controls, CO2 technology being used, and the energy penalty to the plant and must include the available options for transporting the CO2, as well as available options for storage or use of the captured CO2. The cost of each of these points must be taken into consideration because they will impact the ultimate cost of electricity in a carbon-managed power production scenario.

Moving toward U.S. energy security means entering into a situation where most U.S. energy, and energy sources, are harvested in North America in a manner that is reliable, relatively inexpensive and environmentally responsible. Most consumers of power are resistant to large increases on their electricity bill, while simultaneously, there is a public demand to reliably purchase power that is produced in an environmentally friendly way. The U.S. energy security goal is a very delicate balance between all of these factors, and the CCUS composition must be able to adjust to them.

The capture component is not as simple as one might think. A broad spectrum of generation units varying from less than 50 to over 800 MW in size are in use today utilizing various coals of different heat densities, at different quantities, and with very different levels of emission control. The technologies that currently exist for capturing CO2 are sensitive to the composition of the flue gas, mostly sulfur and nitrogen oxides, referred to as SOx and NOx. Most currently deployed systems for removing SOx and NOx from flue gas do not remove enough of these constituents to prevent the degradation of the chemicals or membranes used in today’s CO2 capture technologies. In many cases, plants will likely need to deploy additional impurity removal techniques prior to CO2capture, equating to additional capital expense.

CO2capture technologies for coal-fired power plants are an ever-growing science and engineering enterprise. New concepts, or improvements to known concepts, are being generated every year. At this time, most of these concepts are not ready to be deployed at the full scale, so “first-generation” technologies which rely on experience gained in other industries will likely be the first deployed. Technologies to capture impurities from gas streams are not new, and many have been around for decades. Today’s most deployable technologies either rely on solvents or sorbents to capture the CO2 from a flue gas stream, while coal gasification can also employ membranes for CO2separation. Solvents/sorbents require heat, both to release the captured CO2and to regenerate the solvent/sorbent for reuse. This additional heat requirement is one of the largest challenges facing implementation of CO2capture and results in a significantly large energy penalty (parasitic load) on a power plant.

The most logical source of heat for solvent/sorbent regeneration is the steam cycle itself. In most coal-fired power plants, the steam cycle provides the energy for the electrical generator to produce electricity, and if steam is diverted to other purposes, then that energy is not available to turn the generator. It is universally recognized that the integration of today’s CO2capture technology will result in a reduction of the plant’s electricity output by up to 35%. Many of the smaller plants, certainly those below 100 MW, would be forced to shut down, as the costs of additional emission control and CO2capture integration and energy penalty would be too great to overcome. Other sources for regeneration energy could be used, but it would mean the construction of additional units and/or the application of an additional fuel source, which again equals more expense.

Solvents are currently the quickest way to capture CO2 but come with their own set of challenges. A majority of solvents used for CO2 capture are composed predominantly of water and amine-based chemicals, which typically make up 20% to 40% of the solution. The water component does not aid in the solvent’s ability to capture CO2, and there is ongoing research to reduce and/or remove the need for water altogether. Water content greatly contributes to the overall need for regeneration energy; therefore, less water would also mean a lower energy penalty. Each plant utilizing a solvent would need hundreds to thousands of gallons a year to replace the spent solvent. When adjusting that to the number of plants that would potentially use the solvent, the volume of chemicals needed each year becomes very large. Many chemical suppliers have recognized that a challenge would exist to produce enough of these chemicals for CO2capture alone, to say nothing for the production of these chemicals for any other use worldwide. Of additional note is the fact that these solvents may be hazardous, need to be handled carefully, and must be stored and disposed of properly to avoid potential harm to the environment.

Incremental improvements/changes in the composition of these solvents can have a broad effect on CCUS. Less water usage, lower regeneration energy requirement, greater CO2 uptake by the solvent, and greater tolerance for SOxand NOx are all factors that highly influence the economic viability of any solvent.

This is the focus of the Partnership for CO2 Capture (PCO2C) Program at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC). One of the primary goals of this program is to study solvents, sorbents, and technologies used for CO2 capture and test them utilizing actual combustion- or gasification-derived flue gas generated in pilot-scale systems from many different fuel sources. It is through this program, and others like it, that progress toward the goal of cost-effective CO2 capture is being realized, providing a pathway to technology demonstration and commercialization.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recognizes that demonstrations of CO2capture technologies have been limited, and with the implementation of first-generation technologies, the wholesale cost of electricity could increase by 80% as a result of a projected cost of CO2 capture at $60 per metric ton. The DOE has set a goal for second-generation technology to drop the costs of CO2capture below $40 per metric ton in the 2020–2025 time frame. This is all part of a critical DOE-sponsored program that is focused on reducing the issues facing commercially viable carbon capture. The process for reaching commercial viability needs to be stepwise, ending in multiple scale-up demonstrations of each technology.


An illustration of CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR). 

The decisions made for updating emission control to accommodate for CO2capture integration and the selection of the CO2 technology are only the halfway point on the path to commercial CCUS. The remaining part of the path involves determining what should be done with the captured CO2. The most common option for CO2 storage is in deep geologic targets in sedimentary basins, such as depleted oil and gas fields, deep brine- or saltwater-filled formations, and deep unminable coal layers. The techniques for injecting and storing gases and fluids in deep geologic formations have been used in the oil, gas, and waste management industries for decades and have well-established practices. If the plant is located above or near a deep sedimentary basin, then there may be several options for CO2 storage. If there are nearby oil fields, the obvious first choice would be to provide CO2 for EOR. Utility power plants and other regulated CO2emission sources that do not have regional access to geologic options will have severe challenges when it comes to storing captured CO2.

To utilize CO2, it must first be transported. Transport of CO2is only economical within a certain distance from the emission source to a wellhead or a pipeline interconnect. Transportation is available through the use of pipelines and tankers to move compressed CO2 wherever it is needed, but at a cost, and these costs are not trivial. Costs have been estimated for trucks and trailers to be in the range of $45 per metric ton to transport CO2, whereas railcars are estimated to be about $35 per metric ton. Pipelines are a more economical option in the long run but require significant planning, permitting, and up-front capital. Costs for pipelines can vary widely, but a quick estimate can be made using rule-of-thumb guidelines at $70,000–$100,000 per inch of pipe diameter per mile of pipe. For example, a 12-inch pipeline would cost $840,000–$1,200,000 per mile; if the line were only 10 miles long, then the cost would be $8.4 to $12 million dollars. For a plant 500 miles from subsurface use, the costs for transport may be too high. In these situations, partnerships must form between the CO2 provider and the CO2 user.

CO2utilization and storage are the focus of another program led by the EERC called the Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Program. This program is one of seven regional partnership programs sponsored by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership Program. The PCOR Partnership Program is a collaboration of over 100 U.S. and Canadian stakeholders that is laying the groundwork for practical and environmentally sound CO2 storage projects in the heartland of North America.

It is easy to quickly realize that the costs for CCUS will be in the billions of dollars and, ultimately, those costs will be passed down in some form to the consumer. EOR and other utilization processes may ease some of the associated costs, but in the end, the price of energy will likely rise. In addition, many challenges are associated with the commercial implementation of CCUS, but we are working toward economically viable solutions. These solutions are going to take time to develop but will be needed, as the world’s energy demand increases, along with the need to be good stewards of the environment. As such, it makes sense to continue the work under the important DOE CCUS programs, to improve readiness, and to reduce the costs for widespread commercial CCUS implementation, not just in the United States but around the world.

This article was published in Air Pollution Control Magazine, June 2014.

FEATURED DOCUMENTARY– Water: The Lifeblood of Energy

Turning on the lights, driving to work, surfing the Web—energy is inextricably linked to water. With the greater need for energy, the demand for water will continue to increase. How can we balance the need for water in energy with water for crops, households, and factories? How can we make do with the water we have?

The Energy & Environmental Research Center’s (EERC’s) half-hour documentary “Water: The Lifeblood of Energy” describes the connection between water and energy and documents how clients and utilities across the western United States are collaborating, conserving, and utilizing new technology to squeeze more use out of every precious drop.


Energy and water are inseparable issues,” said Executive Producer and EERC Senior Research Manager, Bethany Kurz. “Energy generation requires water, and the treatment and distribution of water for commercial, industrial, and household uses requires energy. Similarly, irrigated agriculture requires energy to pump water to crops. As the population expands, there is an increasing demand for both energy and water which necessitates innovative strategies to conserve and supply these resources.”

Kurz added, “With the vibrant oil and gas, agricultural, and utility interests in the region, practical  water reuse synergies among these different industries is already occurring and should continue to be explored.”

Quick Facts

  • Energy and water demand are intimately linked.
  • Approximately 25 gallons of water is needed (primarily for steam cooling) to produce 1 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity, but only 2 gallons is lost in the process through evaporation.
  • According to the International Water Management institute, overall global energy use is expected to increase nearly 50% from 2007 to 2035.
  • Electricity production is projected to increase to over 5200 billion kWh by the year 2025.
  • By 2045, the world population will increase to 9 billion people, and water withdrawals are expected to increase by 50%.

“Water: The Lifeblood of Energy” was produced by Prairie Public Broadcasting in partnership with the EERC, the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory, and key stakeholders representing power generation utilities, oil and gas companies, industry, municipalities, and other entities interested in addressing critical water issues in the north-central United States.

To learn more about the water–energy nexus and innovative options for water treatment, reuse, and conservation, visit the EERC’s water management Web site at www.undeerc.org/water

Need Chemical or Environmental Analysis? Our customized approach provides quality data.

The Analytical Research Laboratory (ARL) at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) is fully equipped for routine and specialized chemical and environmental analyses, including instrumentation ideal for low-level trace element detection. The laboratory provides quality data and flexibility, including rapid turnaround time, in support of research activities at the EERC and for outside clients.

“We are often compared to a commercial laboratory because of the types of analyses that we do and the instrumentation that we have,” says Carolyn Nyberg, Manager of the ARL. “There are similarities, and the ARL is very committed to producing high-quality data, but I strongly feel that we offer our clients so much more than just quality data.”

“Our analytical routine commonly starts with one-on-one conversations with clients to determine the best approach for sample analysis, and we also provide postanalysis interpretation of results when needed,” Nyberg adds. “We can often modify our schedules to accommodate ‘rush’ samples, and with proper planning, we are available to work flexible hours to support pilot-scale activities that run continuously and on weekends.”

The EERC has extensive experience in the analysis of many sample types, including the following:
  • Fossil fuels
  • Solid biofuels
  • Combustion by-products
  • Soil and sediments
  • Natural waters
  • Wastewater
  • Biological tissues (plant material, fish tissue)
“A number of years ago, the EERC was heavily involved in several water projects, primarily to determine the fate and transport of various chemicals in groundwater,” says Nyberg. “Water testing is again at the forefront of our work, but now it's in support of oil and gas and carbon capture and storage projects.”

For example, groundwater and surface water analyses are being performed to better characterize the water in the vicinity of an oil field. The Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership, led by the EERC, is monitoring and studying the injection of over a million tons of CO2 per project into an oil field as part of its mission to assess the viability of carbon capture and storage underground.

The water analyses are performed preinjection and also during injection operations as part of the project’s monitoring, verification, and accounting program to ensure that the CO2 remains stored underground in the target injection zone. The EERC is working closely with the oil and gas industry to support commercial client’s needs for regulatory approvals on drill cuttings for beneficial reuse in North Dakota.

Laboratory procedures and analytical methods used at the ARL adhere to nationally and internationally recognized or approved standards and methods put forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ASTM International, Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, and other organizations. The ARL has several measures in place to ensure that data are of the highest quality:
  • The laboratory management system is guided by ISO 17025, which includes a written quality manual that defines every aspect of laboratory operation from document control to customer service to equipment operations to quality assurance of analytical data.
  • Detailed standard operating procedures are in place for the analytical methods routinely performed in the laboratory.
  • EPA guidelines are followed in order to ensure the precision and accuracy of test results.

The EERC has twelve unique laboratories to support research and technology development. Nyberg says that the EERC’s labs collaborate often, both to share equipment and expertise for the benefit of the client.

For more information on how the ARL can help you, visit the ARL online, or contact Carolyn Nyberg by phone at (701) 777-5057 or by e-mail at cnyberg@undeerc.org or contact Bethany Kurz by phone at (701) 777-5050 or by e-mail at bkurz@undeerc.org.