Carbon

Workers continue assembling the Integrated Testing Center at the Dry Fork coal-fired power plant Sept. 21 outside Gillette. The ITC consists of a series of research bays connected to the power plant for researchers to test carbon capture technology.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

Wyoming announced a partnership Friday with a California organization that is researching how to clean up the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The collaboration is part of the state’s attempt to grow a carbon research and development sector in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority hasn’t given up on the idea that capturing carbon dioxide emitted from power plants can help the coal industry survive.

The reason for Wyoming’s efforts is pretty well understood in the state. Customers are increasingly leaning towards cleaner energy sources. Regulations are pressuring the electricity sector to decrease fossil fuel emissions and markets are favoring cheaper resources for power. These changes are affecting the coal sector faster than many experts predicted.

In many ways, the likelihood of a robust coal sector in Wyoming’s future has been compromised.

Proponents say the partnership between the Infrastructure Authority and the Center for Carbon Removal will help foster an industry centered in Wyoming that researches and deploys strategies around carbon emissions, from efficiently reducing the emissions from coal fired power plants, to using that captured gas to create carbon fiber products.

“Wyoming is building the infrastructure to position itself as an engineering and corporate leader in the emerging carbon conversion industry, which can drive climate-smart economic growth,” said Noah Deich, executive director of the Center for Carbon Removal, which aims to combat climate change by dealing with the carbon dioxide that’s already in the air.

It may seem odd that Wyoming would partner with a company directly addressing climate change. It’s not. The state where 42 percent of people believe climate change is from natural causes depends on an energy economy that is adapting to climate change. It’s been proactive in finding ways to make Wyoming fit into this new economic reality, whether the populace warms to climate science or not.

The gravity of the challenge to coal was highlighted Friday morning by yet another coal plant closure announcement out of Texas, the number one buyer of Wyoming coal. The Monticello power plant’s three coal units will be retired in January.

Wyoming has been beating the drum on carbon capture for years, spending $15 million in an industry-government cost share to build the Integrated Testing Center in Gillette, a research bay connected to Basin Electric’s coal fired plant.

“Constructing the Integrated Test Center was only the first step in Wyoming’s long term efforts to advance carbon technologies,” said Jason Begger, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. “Joining the Carbon Recycling Labs initiative will help fill the pipeline of technologies that can test at the ITC and not only push technology development, but provide the resources and capital necessary to develop a carbon utilization industry in Wyoming.”

The Carbon Research Center, based in Oakland, California, will use the nearly-finished carbon capture facilities Wyoming is building north of Gillette to advance its research, the organization’s director announced alongside Beggar at a conference in Jackson.

Though clean coal technology has been around for more than a decade, politicians in D.C., are increasingly referencing “clean coal” in an attempt to show support for the industry.

Others, however, are criticizing the current push for carbon research dollars, arguing that that money would be better spent moving states like Wyoming away from a carbon-dependent power sector.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Star-Tribune reporter Heather Richards covers Wyoming's energy industry and related issues.

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