Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Update on Coal Projects in the Area


July 23, 2011: Update on Basin Electric coal gasification/CO2 generation and capture, as well as new calls for government policies to support EOR. 

October 30, 2010: Update on Coal Creek Station. This is Great River Energy's benefication plant located between Bismarck and Minot where lignite is dried to produce a better fuel. The concept is working and engineers from as far away as China are coming to visit. The company's patented process is called DryFining. This appears to be more successful than most people initially thought. A synopsis of this plant:
The Coal Creek Station in Underwood, ND, has a coal drying process they have been working on for years. "They" claim a 29% moisture reduction in the lignite, causing a 14.5 % increase in heat content of lignite. This process also causes a reduction of 52 % of SO2, a 37 % reduction in mercury and a 32% reduction in NOX2. This plant is also going to dry coal for a new power station being built in Jamestown, ND.

October 6, 2010: The nation's only commercial-scale plant producing natural gas from lignite paid off its last loan to the US government (long story, see link). The company is Dakota Gasification Company, a subsidiary of Bismarck-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

Original Blog

Call me obsessive-compulsive, but it often leads to good things.

It's a long, convoluted story -- too long and too convoluted to go into here -- but my obsession with DKRW has led me down a strange but interesting path, with lots of dots to connect.

I am a novice when it comes to coal, so this posting is simply for me to start understanding what is going on in North Dakota with respect to coal. Yes, it's a bit off-topic from the Bakken but there are too many stories about coal "in the Bakken" for this site to ignore. Again, this is for my benefit, and anyone who can shed light on what is transpiring is welcome to comment.

First, we all know about the South Heart Gasification Plant, or at least I thought I did. But I am getting a bit more confused. It's possible that there are three projects in the works in and around South Heart, Stark County, North Dakota (USA) regarding the use of coal.

Hopefully others will help me out.

The three projects:
  • Beneficiation: A coal-drying process to transform lignite into a more efficient coal.
  • Above-ground gasification: A coal-gasification plant.
  • Underground gasification: An underground coal gasification project.
Beneficiation: The coal-drying process
This was the first story I linked: New Zealand shipping lignite to North Dakota to test the concept. Recent reports suggest that the New Zealand test was successful.
The plant in North Dakota, operated by GTL Energy and slated to open at the end of December, aims to prove that new technology can remove much of that water content and impurities to make the fuel more cost efficient and increase its energy value. French said the company hopes the plant will reduce lignite water content to 10 percent using a process called beneficiation.
The plant, which is designed to process about 240,000 tons of lignite annually, is the first commercial-scale project of its kind.
The coal-gasification plant
South Heart Coal (SHC) is a subsidiary of Great Northern Power Development (GNPD), which is affiliated with Great Northern Properties, the nation’s largest private coal reserve holder. In January, 2008, these two entities (SHC and GNPD) announced their intent to move forward with a $1.4 billion proposal for a coal-to-gas plant and coal mine at the same site. If the proposal is approved, construction could begin in December, 2009, (need to find update), and the plant would be operational in 2012. Subsequently (in 2009), SHC has changed its permit (due to legal wrangling) to forego the gasification plant and simply become an electrical generation plant.  [Update, November 4, 2010: South Heart Coal has resubmitted its proposal, but limits it to strip coal mining; promoters says coal-drying technology licensed from GTL will be used by a new plant to be built three miles west of South Heart.]

The project is located 30 miles west of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and air status concerns for the park make the location problematic (need to find update). From SourceWatch.com.
Note: SourceWatch states the project would be WEST of the Theordore Roosevelt National Park. Folks living in the area tell me that the project is EAST of the park.  UPDATE: the folks at SourceWatch replied to my e-mail and said that yes, indeed, they will correct that. For me that makes the "air status concerns" a lot less problematic.

It is my understanding that South Heart Coal was also considering an IGCC power plant there (it is confusing to me whether this is a new project or related to the "coal-to-gas plant" noted above).
Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants are believed to be the type of power plants that will predominately be used to add to our electrical power supply, replace our aging coal power plants and out increasingly expensive natural gas power plants. Source: The Energy Blog.
Near Beulah, North Dakota, a coal gasification plant
Basin Elecric Power Cooperatiave (Basin Electric), through its for-profit subsidiary, Dakota Gasification Company (Dakota Gas), owns and operates the Great Plains Synfuels Plant (Synfuels Plant). The Synfuels Plant is the only commercial-scale coal gasification plant in the United States that manufactures natural gas. It is also the cleanest energy plant operating in the state of North Dakota, according to a comparison of emissions data available from the North Dakota Department of Health.
  • Average daily production of natural gas is about 153 million cubic feet, the majority of which is piped to Ventura, IA, for distribution in the eastern United States.
  • The Synfuels Plant supplies carbon dioxide to the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project in the world in Saskatchewan, Canada. Dakota Gas currently captures between 2.5 and 3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
  • The $2.1-billion plant began operating in 1984. Using Lurgi gasifiers, the Synfuels Plant gasifies lignite coal to produce valuable gases and liquids. Located five miles northwest of Beulah, ND, the Synfuels Plant has been owned and operated by Dakota Gas since 1988.
  • About $477 million has been invested in the Synfuels Plant since 1988 to achieve environmental compliance, improve efficiency, and invest in new byproduct development. 
DKRW is promoting a coal-to-methane-to gasoline project in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, in the far southeastern corner of the state. I assume this is an above-ground gasification project taking the process one step farther along, to make gasoline. 

Underground gasification concept
I first came across this concept earlier this month in a Bismarck Tribune.com story.
"It could be the bridge to a low-carbon, energy-rich future," said Friedmann, a researcher in carbon management for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "I consider this to be the cleanest coal."

The technique can be used on deep-underground coal seams that are shielded from groundwater. The process works by injecting oxygen and steam into a seam, sparking a chemical reaction that converts the coal into a gas that is collected through a boring injected into another part of the coal vein. The synthetic gas - "syngas" - that is produced can be used in electrical generation or processed into synthetic fuels and natural gas feedstocks.
"It's not a new technology, but it's one that is new to a lot of people," said Mike Fowler, who works on climate technology for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group in Boston. The process has been around for decades, but has not been used in North America until recently.
This needs to be updated, but at least I'm starting to get a clearer picture.

The importance of all this is to figure out politically where coal stands. I think the DKRW site is most helpful:
The CTL facility will utilize General Electric Company’s coal gasification technology to produce synthetic gas, which will be cleaned to remove substantially all of the sulfur and carbon dioxide (CO2). This process significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts associated with traditional uses of coal.  The cleaned syngas is conditioned, modified and converted to methanol.
It is my understanding that GE and the current administration get along with each other very nicely. The administration sees GE as a "green" company with GE's emphasis wind turbines (albeit a losing proposition). The DKRW site promotes its efforts by prominently including the corporate logos of Arch Coal, XOM, and GE.

This speaks volumes and suggests to me that despite all the anti-coal rhetoric coming out of Washington, coal as an energy source for America is going to be around for a long time.

By the way, remember: Warren Buffett bought Burlington Northern Railroad, which I believe is the largest mover of coal.


  1. They should also have a good market for their leftover CO2 that can be sold to the Oil fields for future recovery. Looks like an energy Win win situation.

  2. Yes, that is what a lot of folks are saying. For more on this, see DNR, especially the message boards. I haven't looked at the DNR message boards in a long time, but DNR is really big into enhanced oil recovery (EOR) using CO2. I am sure they will bring their technology from Wyoming/Colorado to North Dakota. Remember, DNR bought/merged with Encore.