GILLETTE — At first glance, it appears there’s not much happening on the 226,000 square feet of flat, open space east and north of the Dry Fork Station power plant about 10 miles north of Gillette.
The large lot looks like an overflow parking area for a concert venue with the exception of new chain-link fencing around the crushed scoria surface. A large, silver pipe runs just a few feet off the ground horizontal to the space nearly the length of the coal-fired power plant.
While many can look at the Integrated Test Center and see a lot of nothing, the Dimensional Energy team sees potential.
Having a world-class carbon capture research facility like the ITC is “unquestionably invaluable” to the potentially ground-breaking research proposed by Dimensional Energy, said David Erickson, a senior faculty member at Cornell University and the inventor of Dimensional’s carbon-capture and reuse technology.
Dimensional Energy and the other four NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize finalists are preparing to set up their test facilities at the ITC as early as June 1.
“It is extremely difficult to find a place where you can validate energy-scale technologies in the real world when you’re coming from an academic lab,” Erickson said. “Both this facility and this opportunity represents an enormous opportunity.”
Dimensional Energy was one of four XPrize finalist teams at the Integrated Test Center on Tuesday to meet with Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality officials to get their permitting and other required paperwork in line. It’s a necessary bureaucratic hurdle all the research teams much clear before setting up their test plants and tying into the flue gas provided by Dry Fork.
It’s also a step that, until recently, Dimensional Energy wasn’t expecting to take. That’s because the team wasn’t one of the original finalists named last April. When the Carbicrete team from Montreal, a finalist at the competition’s gas-fired plant in Alberta, Canada, pulled out of the XPrize, it opened a spot for another research team.
Getting the call was a surprise, said Jason Safi, Dimensional’s CEO and team leader.
“We had originally been turned down,” he said. “We didn’t know it, but I guess we were an alternate.”
In the nine months between the original selection of the finalists and Carbicrete dropping out, Dimensional Energy made some significant progress on its technology, Safi said.
“We had gotten the technology pretty far along … (and) had made some big leaps forward in those nine months,” he said.
That includes securing a research grant from Shell and a federal grant to help develop the team’s CO2 conversion technology, which basically uses a photosynthesis-type process to convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, which can be used in chemical processes, Safi said.
“We use carbon dioxide and we use light as a feedstock to convert the CO2 into carbon monoxide, which is a usable product,” he said.
Having a chance to prove the technology at the ITC “represents an enormous opportunity for the Carbon XPrize, but also people looking at translating other technologies,” Erickson said.
After securing their permitting, the next step for the XPrize finalists is to build their test plants and set up at the ITC, said Marcius Extavour, executive director for the XPrize Foundation’s Energy and Resources division.
“We’re kind of in the next phase now,” he said. “June is the time we said is the earliest we’ll accept data from teams. The real deadline that matters is the end of next February. They’ve got from between now and then to build a pilot, bring it here, turn it on and collect as much data as they can.”
While June 1 is the earliest the teams can start operating and collecting data, Extavour doesn’t expect much activity until later in the summer or into the fall. He also said it’s likely the teams will build their test facilities off-site and ship them to Gillette.
“Everybody’s just furiously trying to raise money, getting their designs tight, building equipment, ordering it, getting it assembled,” he said.
With a $7.5 million first prize — part of an overall prize pool of $20 million — there’s a significant financial incentive to develop an economical and profitable way to capture and reuse waste CO2 emissions, Extavour said.
“It’s a huge, huge challenge we’re facing — how to decarbonize our economy,” he said. “It’s staggering. We can’t use all of the 40 billion tons of CO2 we produce every year. We have to reduce that output.
“If we can set in motion and show people that it’s possible to, first of all, use it productively; and second of all, use it in an economically sustainable way, that, we think, can be a tipping point.”
With only about 13 months left before XPrize winners will be announced in March 2020, “the race is on,” Extavour said.