Teams compete to capture carbon at power plant research center


CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Teams in a $20 million competition to discover new ways to trap and use carbon dioxide will use a planned research facility at a Wyoming power plant, the governor announced Thursday.

The Integrated Test Center will be built at Basin Electric's Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant 7 miles north of Gillette, Gov. Matt Mead said. The state has pledged $15 million toward construction of the lab for carbon-capture research.

Wyoming has more coal mining than any other state and supplies about 40 percent of the nation's coal. State officials have been keen to find ways for coal to remain a viable fuel for generating electricity despite its role in global warming.

"We are making an investment in the future of coal," said Mead, who also announced that the XPrize Foundation will be the facility's first tenant.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. has promised $5 million toward the center and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, $1 million.

Almost the same amount of money is going into the recently announced NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize: $10 million from utility NRG Energy Inc. and $10 million from Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, a group of 13 companies working on reducing the environmental effects of oil sands exploitation.

Putting large volumes of carbon dioxide to use is nothing new. For over a decade, carbon dioxide has been pumped into aging central Wyoming oil fields, helping restore production.

Key to the XPrize will be the value of trapped carbon dioxide once converted to some other use. One exotic possibility is using the carbon to make graphene, a recently discovered and difficult to manufacture substance much stronger than steel.

Half of the XPrize competition will focus on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and the other half on those from gas-fired plants, according to the prize rules.

The XPrize Foundation will select 15 teams to submit plans in the first round of the competition. In the second round, they will demonstrate their techniques in a laboratory or similar setting. As many as five second-round winners in each category will share a $2.5 million prize.

In the third round, they must prove their methods at a working power plant and will compete for the $7.5 million grand prize in each category.

Basin Electric built Dry Fork Station, which went into commercial operation in 2011, with an eye toward someday using it to advance coal technologies, CEO and General Manager Paul Sukut said.

"That day has arrived," he said.

The board of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority approved an agreement Thursday with the XPrize Foundation to use the test center. The authority promotes development of pipelines, power lines and other infrastructure to help export electricity and fossil fuels from Wyoming to other states.

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