The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $40.5 million to the University of Wyoming to advance a “large-scale” commercial carbon storage hub in the southwest corner of the state. It’s the latest show of federal support for cleaner energy projects in the state, and comes as a result of years of foundation laying in the sector.
The Sweetwater Carbon Storage Hub — part of the federal CarbonSAFE Initiative — will be located near Granger, west of Green River, according to a UW official. Texas-based Frontier Carbon Solutions, a partner on the project, plans to drill a series of injection wells in the area for storing CO2 deep underground.
UW and Frontier Carbon Solutions will contribute another $10.1 million to the carbon storage project for a total $50.6 million, according to DOE and university officials. The facility will have a minimum storage capacity of 50 million metric tons of CO2 over the life of the project.
Wyoming is grateful for federal support of an emerging carbon storage industry that the state has been courting for years, Gov. Mark Gordon said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The state has long advanced the research and regulatory structure to enable a robust carbon capture, use and storage sector.”
The $40.5 million award is the largest federal grant that the University of Wyoming has received in its history, according to UW officials. The university has conducted more than a decade of carbon storage research and Wyoming-specific geologic analysis to pave the way for such a project, according to Fred McLaughlin, director of the Center for Economic Geology Research at UW’s School of Energy Resources.
Wyoming was among the first states in the nation to create a legal framework to allow CO2 underground storage. The state also boasts a CO2 pipeline network that extends from the southwest corner to the northeast, and it already has some 40 years experience in carbon sequestration via several “enhanced oil recovery” projects, McLaughlin told the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee Thursday morning in Kemmerer.
“Wyoming’s very lucky to have an experienced [carbon capture, use and storage]-ready workforce that is not inherent to the rest of the United States,” McLaughlin said. “There’s only a few states that actually have carbon management industries, and that puts us ahead.”
Wyoming was selected, in part, due to its decades of work to demonstrate the geologic capacity to permanently store CO2 underground, said Noah Deich, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Carbon Management in the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. The state was also considered for its historic reliance on fossil fuels to drive its economy and a recognition of the need to transition to cleaner energy paradigms.
“We recognize that Wyoming’s economy has been dependent on fossil fuels for decades,” Deich told WyoFile. “We see these carbon management projects as a way to help transition the [Wyoming] workforce that has been working on carbon management projects in a way that supports high-quality jobs and helps communities across the state.”
The public-private Sweetwater Carbon Storage Hub partnership will rely on constructing facilities to collect CO2 from multiple trona mining facilities, which are already in operation, as well as the Project Bison direct-air capture facility in the planning stages, according to the DOE.
Those carbon capture efforts are not part of the $40.5 million award announced this week, Deich said, and will likely win federal support through other Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act programs.
State and university efforts
Another CarbonSAFE Initiative project is already underway in Wyoming, which includes capturing CO2 from the Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant near Gillette and pumping the gas deep underground for permanent storage. That project is currently in a testing phase to determine its commercial feasibility.
UW, along with the Wyoming Energy Authority and private partners, consider industrial sources of CO2 — coal-burning power plants, oil and natural gas processing and trona facilities — an opportunity to lower the state’s greenhouse gas footprint while establishing an industry that earns credits and payments for storing CO2.
“The University of Wyoming’s [School of Energy Resources] is not just nationally renowned, they are globally renowned for their carbon sequestration work,” Idaho National Laboratory research scientist Travis McLing told Minerals Committee members Thursday.
The Inflation Reduction Act increased the value of what’s known as the 45Q tax credit, which improves the economics for carbon storage projects, according to McLing. For example, a direct-air capture facility like Project Bison could earn about $130 per metric ton of CO2 that is permanently sequestered.
With the potential to store at minimum 50 million metric tons, “there’s a lot of money in the system to do this kind of work,” McLing said. The technology is already well-established. What’s been missing, until recently, is the economic incentive, he added.
“It’s not just a science and engineering question,” he said. “It’s: ‘How do we capitalize it?'”
Fed climate initiative
UW is among nine entities receiving federal support for carbon storage under the CarbonSAFE Initiative. The DOE awarded a total $242 million this week for such carbon storage “hubs,” including projects in Texas, Colorado and Illinois, according to a DOE press release. Wyoming’s grant is the largest of the nine.
Also this week, the DOE announced its selection for regional CO2 pipeline networks, granting a total $9 million for projects in Texas, Michigan and Georgia.
“Thanks to historic clean energy investments, DOE is building out the infrastructure needed to slash harmful carbon pollution from industry and the power sector, revitalize local economies, and unlock enormous public health benefits,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a prepared statement.
The investment to build a carbon storage network is long overdue, considering the growing threat of human-caused climate change, the federal Office of Carbon Management’s Deich said.
“In my opinion, it’s definitely not soon enough,” Deich said. “We should have been working on this and really investing far before this.”
However, he referenced an old saying: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today.”