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State has high hopes for huge carbon capture project

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A model poses with a piece of coal in Casper.

Wyoming leaders have made plain, for years, that they’re courting carbon capture developers in an effort to save the state’s coal industry. But their vision of Wyoming as a destination for carbon capture has also grown to encompass much more than coal.

That’s what prompted state officials to pursue — and successfully land — Project Bison, which on Sept. 8 became the largest direct air capture initiative ever announced.

Unlike the point-source technologies aimed at power plants and other individual emitters, direct air capture facilities suck carbon dioxide straight out of the air. The pair of startups behind Project Bison plan to begin removing and storing about 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, or roughly 0.3% of what’s released by the average coal-fired power plant, at a not-yet-disclosed Wyoming site by the end of next year.

Direct air capture pioneer CarbonCapture Inc. and sequestration-focused Frontier Carbon Solutions, based in California and Texas, respectively, then hope to build toward a target of 5 million tons per year — 400 times the project’s initial capacity — by 2030.

And the companies’ ambitions don’t end there, according to Adrian Corless, CarbonCapture’s CEO.

“Past 5 megatons, there is nothing that stops us from continuing to build, either on the same location or other regions of Wyoming,” Corless said.

The prospect of direct air capture appeals to state leaders in part because it’s different — without being too different.

“This is a new industry, a new market, but it leverages a lot of the things that we in Wyoming are really good at,” said Sarah Fitz-Gerald, chief strategy officer at the Wyoming Business Council.

“The types of jobs that are created in this industry are somewhat similar to the types of jobs that we have in Wyoming’s economy already,” Fitz-Gerald added. “And so they’re a good fit for the workforce that we have here.”

CarbonCapture and Frontier Carbon Solutions were in talks with the state for months before finalizing their decision. Higher federal tax credits for direct air capture and sequestration, adopted in August following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, inspired them to make the leap.

In addition to the skilled workforce, the companies chose Wyoming for its abundance of underground geologic formations well-suited to storage and the fact that it’s one of a handful of states authorized to permit its own carbon injection wells. State leaders’ enthusiasm — and communities’ openness — toward direct air capture also helped.

“Wyoming is not afraid to go out and be the first,” Corless said.

Being the first means the state and the companies will confront plenty of other, smaller firsts along the way. Like how the facility will be taxed. What, exactly, the permitting process will entail, both above-ground and below. And where to secure the low-carbon power it will require.

“We are trying something new,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We’re going to learn a lot throughout the process.”

The number of jobs created is another question mark.

“I can pretty safely say it’s in the hundreds, if not in the thousands, but we have a lot of work to do to figure that out,” said Jonas Lee, chief commercial officer at CarbonCapture. He expects activity to increase as the facility expands, supporting adjacent industries, especially construction.

“These are not minimum-wage jobs,” Lee said.

While the company is interested in partnering with community colleges to create training programs as needed, many state residents already possess transferable skills, Lee said, adding, “We’re in Wyoming for a reason.”

According to CarbonCapture, Project Bison’s incremental, one-module-at-a-time approach is one of its biggest strengths. It reduces the up-front investment and enables the facility to start operating — and start generating revenue through the sale of carbon removal credits — sooner. The companies are already lining up buyers.

Modularity also makes it possible to learn from older units and refine the technology used in newer ones, in the hopes of boosting efficiency and lowering costs.

Each CarbonCapture module, roughly the size of a 40-foot shipping container, contains solid materials that can absorb most of the carbon dioxide from air that’s drawn through. When those materials are heated to about 85 degrees Celsius — 185 degrees Fahrenheit — they release the carbon dioxide.

In Wyoming’s case, once that carbon dioxide has been extracted from the modules, Frontier Carbon Solutions will take over and pump it underground. With the modules running out of sync, as planned, carbon dioxide will flow regularly from one unit after another, all while workers keep installing more.

“We don’t have a limitation on how big the project can get,” Corless said. “The particular geology in Wyoming is going to support pretty much a project of any size.”


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