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Clean Coal Technology Fund Reports First Successes

August 26, 2009

As the top coal-producing state in a nation motivated to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, Wyoming faces an ultimatum of sorts: Clean your coal -- or else.

That's why it's impossible to overstate the importance of the Clean Coal Task Force (CCTF), whose job is to first identify and then fund research projects that could lead to the development of technologies to reduce the environmental impact of coal-based electric generation.

"The state of Wyoming is in a unique position to effect change in how we use our abundant and secure natural resources," says Ron Harper, CEO and general manager of Basin Electric and Basin Cooperative Services and chairman of the CCTF. "In the case of coal, the work of the Clean Coal Task Force is invaluable to the long-term strategy of the governor and the legislature in their search to find ways to use it more efficiently, effectively and sustainably in the production of energy."

The CCTF was enacted by the Wyoming State Legislature in 2007 to oversee the Clean Coal Technology Fund, which serves to stimulate research which would enhance and improve clean coal technologies, with an emphasis on the use of sub-bituminous coal at high elevations. The task force's early successes can be hailed as milestones in the state's quest to preserve the value of one of its most critical exports and secure its own financial future.

The fund, administered by the School of Energy Resources (SER) at the University of Wyoming, which receives its direction on priorities for research and outreach from the Energy Resource Council, whose members also serve on the CCTF. The fund now supports nine projects in the fields of carbon capture and storage, coal gasification and synthesis gas cleanup, among others.

Two of the original four funded projects are nearing marketability, and a third project has requested additional funding in the latest request for proposals (RPF) to stage its first demonstration.

"We are now in the third year of this fund and the projects funded in the first round are clearly at a state where they are ready to demonstrate results. That is exciting news for the task force and the state," says SER Director Mark Northam. "I know that two of the projects have resulted in patentable technologies, with one of them preparing to commence the demonstration phase at the Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs.

"A third of those original projects has submitted an additional proposal to the Clean Coal Technology Fund to move to the demonstration phase for the reactor they have designed.That is a strong indication of successful completion of their work."

While he says it's still too early to gauge the five projects funded last year, Northam expects to report "significant results at this time next year."

This year, the SER received 22 proposals -- one more than had been submitted in the initial two years of the fund -- and the CCTF will decide which projects to fund at its Aug. 28 meeting on the UW campus. The proposals range from $106,000 to $4.6 million.

While Northam is proud of the growth of the technology fund, which began with just $2.5 million in 2007, it's not simply the number of proposals that is encouraging, he says. With $16.9 million available for distribution this year, Northam says the CCTF is beginning to attract the attention of proposers who are further along in their research, meaning that results will likely be seen sooner than with projects funded in the first two years.

"I think it's clear that, right now, much of the world is challenging the use of coal in light of its alleged impact on climate change. Since Wyoming derives a significant portion of its state revenue from export of coal, any technology that is effective in reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide, mercury, sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides serves to keep Wyoming in the clean-fuels market, and that's where Wyoming needs to be," Northam says. "And, equally important, I think the failure of these technologies to evolve is going to have a significant impact on our ability to stay economically viable."

He adds, "The state is making a significant investment in its energy future and the Clean Coal Task Force and the School of Energy Resources are keenly aware that this is an investment and that the state deserves a significant return on that investment. That's what drives us."

The CCTF will submit its 2010 recommendations to the legislature's Joint Minerals Interim Committee by the state-mandated Oct. 1 deadline.


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