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Image: Larry via Flickr
Image: Larry via Flickr

Groundbreaking planned for Wyoming carbon-conversion lab

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and others on Wednesday will formally kick off construction of a laboratory where researchers will test new technologies to make profitable use of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired power plant.

The goal isn’t just to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere, but to offset the cost of doing so while providing a glimmer of hope for a coal industry beset by bankruptcies and layoffs. As things stand now, carbon-capture technology typically is too expensive to keep coal-fired power competitive with wind and solar power.

Construction of the Integrated Test Center already has begun at Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant near Gillette and is scheduled to wrap up next year.

“There are only a few large-scale test centers in the world where people can test this kind of technology and none that are being built with the idea of carbon conversion as their first instance in mind,” said Paul Bunje, principal and senior scientist at XPrize.

Eventually the lab will host teams that will compete for $20 million in awards, through the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize, to develop carbon conversion technology. 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.

Carbon dioxide emissions could be used to make diesel fuel, cement, advanced polymers and graphene, a carbon-based material many times stronger than steel, Bunje said.

“We’re really keen about innovation that kind of breaks the mold — that looks at something brand new,” Bunje said. “You can’t do it on a computer. You can’t just model it. You need a place where teams can try out their diversity of ideas.”

Wyoming has pledged $15 million toward construction of the lab. Wyoming has more coal mining than any other state, supplying about 40 percent of the nation’s coal.

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

Related: Washington considers nation’s first carbon emissions tax

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