Can captured carbon and geothermal energy generate electricity? North Dakota could provide the answer.
Terracoh will build a pilot project in western North Dakota to demonstrate its technology for combining captured carbon dioxide and geothermal energy. The technology was developed at the University of Minnesota.
BISMARCK — A company aims to make North Dakota the proving ground for new technology that combines capturing carbon dioxide and storing it deep underground with harnessing geothermal energy to run turbines that generate power.
TERRACOH, based in Minnesota, was awarded a loan of almost $750,000 by the North Dakota Department of Commerce to commercialize the green energy technology.
The initiative is one of many projects in development to use favorable geological formations in the Williston Basin to safely store carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants and other sources in saline aquifers located 6,000 to 10,000 feet beneath the earth’s surface.
TERRACOH envisions multiple sites in western North Dakota that will capture carbon emissions, inject them deep underground, where they can use the earth’s natural heat to produce steam to drive turbines to generate electricity.
The pilot project will have the capacity to generate five to 10 megawatts of electricity, said Tyler Bohan, a chemical engineer who is based in Bismarck and works in business development and project management for TERRACOH
“That’s relatively small on the scale of power development,” he said, but larger plants will follow once the technology’s economics are clarified from the pilot project. The technology is “immediately scaleable,” Bohan said.
“We envision upwards of 100 megawatts or more with the possibility of even further growth,” he said.
TERRACOH hopes to make an announcement in the coming months with details about the application of its technology in western North Dakota, a hotbed of interest in carbon capture and sequestration as demand for clean energy is surging.
“We’re excited to make announcements within the state in the very near future,” Bohan said.
“There’s many companies in the state,” he said, adding that TERRACOH is in discussions with numerous potential partners.
“We’re in discussions with multiple and diverse projects within the state,” he said. Also, he added, “More companies will continue to come here to do business, so there’s strong fundamentals to work with.”
Josh Teigen, North Dakota’s director of economic development and finance, said the TERRACOH technology will help to untap the vast potential of the state’s carbon sequestration capabilities.
“This is a project we’re really interested in supporting,” he said. “TERRACOH’s unique approach to power generation on the coattails of carbon capture and sequestration” will help to fill the “insatiable demand for clean power.”
Ultimately, North Dakota aims to not only be a site for industries that use carbon sequestration, but also to export the technology that will drive the industry, Teigen said.
“That’s super appealing to us,” he said. “We believe this helps to diversify that carbon capture technology.”
TERRACOH’s technology, which stems from research originating at the University of Minnesota, has the potential to be applied broadly, Teigen said.
“Anyplace that’s putting carbon in the ground could be a potential partner,” he said. “It’s cutting edge, no one else has done this.”
Experts at the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center are familiar with the technology and have found it promising, Teigen said.
“All the indications we are hearing from experts are really promising,” he said.
TERRACOH has 20 patents, with another eight pending, and two trademarks, Bohan said. The company raised $650,000 in investment seed funds and continues to raise investment dollars, he said.
North Dakota is poised to be a leader in carbon capture and storage because of years of work in creating a favorable business climate and in adopting policies that can foster the emerging industry, Teigen said.
Gov. Doug Burgum has set the ambitious goal of North Dakota becoming carbon neutral by 2030 using innovation rather than regulation as the pathway, which industry finds attractive, he said.
Geological formations in North Dakota have an estimated capacity to store 250 million tons of carbon dioxide, or almost 50 times the annual energy-related output of carbon dioxide.
TERRACOH will use the $748,900 state loan to hire more staff and establish an office in North Dakota to enable it to ramp up its operations, Bohan said.
“We are looking to expand our team within the state,” he said.
The technology involves capturing carbon emissions captured from a power plant, biofuels refinery or manufacturing plant and injecting the gas deep underground into a saline aquifer. After several years, the earth’s heat produces a “carbon dioxide plume” that is used to turn a “terrestrial turbine” to produce electricity.
The “supercritical” mix of carbon dioxide and saltwater is contained within a “closed loop” and is continuously cycled to turn the turbine.
“When it’s turned on it can stay on,” Bohan said. “It can go on indefinitely.”
Given the time it takes for the carbon dioxide mixture to heat to become “supercritical,” he said, it would take several years to be able to generate electricity.