Hearings and Business Meetings

Apr 12 2006

01:30 PM

Full Committee Field Hearing

2211 King Boulevard, Casper, Wyoming Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Building 01:30 PM

Dr. William Gern

Vice President for Research, Chairman of the Board, Western Research Institute

Mr. Chairman, I am William A. Gern, Vice President for Research and Economic Development for the University of Wyoming; I will also speak on behalf of the University of Wyoming Research Corporation which is better known as the Western Research Institute where I serve as the Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Wyoming leads the Nation in net energy production.  The Wyoming Geological Survey developed a report placing all forms of energy production, by each state, into the common accounting system of quadrillion (1.0 x 1015) British Thermal Units (Btu’s).  The survey used DoE EIA data (2003) for this report (the report may be viewed at
http://www.wsgs.uwyo.edu/Coal/DNR_RE_Study.pdf).  The Geological Survey also used the DoE EIA data to estimate energy consumption by state.  The result of subtracting consumption from production is estimated net energy production.  In terms of gross energy production Texas led the Nation, with 9.08 quads Btu, Wyoming was second with 8.80 quad Btu.  It is estimated that Texas consumed 12 quad Btu however, meaning that as a state they were a net energy importer.  At the same time, Wyoming was estimated to have consumed 0.4 quad Btu, thereby exporting approximately 8.4 quad Btu to the nation.  This is why Wyoming is the Nation’s leader in net energy production.  Alaska was estimated to rank second in net energy production with approximately 4.77 quad Btu.
Wyoming’s energy portfolio is multifaceted, it produced 6.65 quad Btu of coal (ranks #1), 1.52 quad Btu of natural gas (ranks #4) and 0.29 quad Btu of crude oil (ranks #7).  Wyoming has led the nation in coal production for the past two decades, with Wyoming coals responsible for an estimated 35 percent of the nation’s electrical power.  While nuclear power generation was examined in this report, it did not attempt to attribute the source of the nuclear fuel; Wyoming ranks #1 in uranium production.
Recognizing Wyoming’s status in energy production, the University of Wyoming has just completed a successful initiative to develop a School for Energy Resources.  This initiative recognizes UW’s existing strength in energy-related education  andresearch, most of which is fundamental, and will add important new components.  The school has three elements, all of which also meet Energy Act of 2005 goals.  UW will enhance existing research capabilities.  We will hire permanent research staff and provide state-funded operating budget to elements of our existing Institute for Energy Research.  Incentives will be provided to UW departments in the form of support funding for three-year faculty appointments into various energy related centers on the campus as well as support for graduate students.  A large annual pool of funding is available for grant matching (this will be very helpful in winning competitive awards from the DoE).  Finally an interdisciplinary technical advisory board will help steer the scientific work conducted under the aegis of the Institute for Energy Research.
The second element is academic.  Funding for 12 distinguished professorships is available.  This will help attract faculty who have achieved international recognition for their research and teaching in fields related to energy.  Our curriculum will be broadened in interdisciplinary directions to support the state’s economic health and strengthen UW’s graduates’ preparation for careers in energy-related fields.
The third element is statewide outreach and service.  Here a permanently funded Energy Outreach Center will provide technical consulting, hold statewide workshops, and produce technical reports supporting energy project design, scientifically-based analysis of energy resources and effective long-term energy planning.  The Outreach Center will serve as an important link between the School for Energy Resources, industry and government agencies.
The Wyoming Legislature passed legislation, providing funding to create the School for Energy Resources in March, 2006. Governor Freudenthal recently signed this legislation into existence with the authorization to immediately commence the work of establishing this important new chapter in the University’s role for the state of Wyoming.  The school is slated to receive $12 million for the first two years of a three yea-year ramp-up period, after which it will be sustained with approximately $10 million annually.
As the energy school proposal was being developed, we were mindful of elements within the Energy Act of 2005 and opportunities presented by research and education partnerships with Federal agencies, the most important of which is the Department of Energy.  We are pleased with Senator Thomas’ co-sponsorship of the PACE-E and ARPA-E Senate bills.  We recognize the importance of this legislation especially the elements dealing with education of a competent workforce and of increased funding for energy-related research.
In order for coal to be used as cleanly as possible, the nation needs greater understanding about the processes of trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) from combustion and gasification processes and about geologic carbon sequestration.  “Carbon sequestration” is initiated with CO2 capture from the flue gas, followed by usage or storage or both.  Flue gas, produced by conventional air combustion, contains approximately 10-15 % CO2; the balance is nitrogen and minor combustion byproducts.  Flue gas produced by plants using oxygen instead of air for combustion, as in future Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle” (IGCC) plants, also contains CO2 but more concentrated (say 50%) and at higher pressures.  Aqueous-amine absorption currently is widely used for separating CO2 from flue gas.  This type of separation substantially increases the cost of electricity generated.  DoE’s goal is to reduce this cost and therefore they support programs developing new separation technology that will reduce the CO2 capture cost, hopefully by a factor of 4 (
http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/carbon_seq/index.html).  DoE’s target for IGCC plants is a new separation technology that will reduce the CO2 capture cost by a factor of 2-3.  To our knowledge existing separation technologies, however optimized and configured, cannot approach these stretching targets.  A route to achieve these capture targets is through novel sorbent and membrane materials.  Sorbent is made of granular material that can trap CO2, but not the other flue gas components, and hence is similar to the materials used in in-line filters for purification of water and air.  These materials need both high CO2 capacity and high CO2/nitrogen selectivity, and they must be easy to regenerate.  The University of Wyoming is actively pursuing research to identify and develop this needed material.
UW has considerable expertise in geological CO2 sequestration.  As a member of the DoE-funded Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership (Montana State University is the lead institution), we are examining CO2 sequestration in carbonate rock reservoirs and the economic analysis of CO2 sequestration.  This work is being done UW’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute where we will couple this knowledge with research deepening our understanding of petroleum reservoir stimulation using the off-loaded CO2; an end result will further use of the nation’s existing known oil supplies.
According to the Wyoming Geological survey, there is 1.4 trillion tons of coal in Wyoming, of which about 64 billion tons can be mined with current technologies.  In order for the nation to use the energy residing in the remaining 1.3 trillion tons, new technologies are required.  Specifically in situ gasification process needs greater understanding through research.  In situ gasification is not new; as a matter of fact, Wyoming was home for such research over twenty years ago.  The Nation also needs a much more fundamental understanding of the biological and physical events associated coal bed natural gas (CBNG) formation.  Many important scientific questions remain open - what is the rate of gas formation?  what are the physical and biological components of gas formation?  can the gas production be altered through manipulation? - to name a few.  Finally the University of Wyoming is doing considerable research into issues associated with CBNG process water production using DoE funding.
As Wyoming’s surface coal mining industry was strongly developing in the early 1970’s many felt that reclamation of the mined surface would be quite slow in the arid, cold regions of the state.  The Wyoming Abandoned Coal Mine Land Research Program, part of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Abandoned Mine Division, produced much valuable information for mine managers to use in reclaiming mined lands.  This program is managed by the University of Wyoming for DEQ and many UW-based research projects have resulted in a wide array of reclamation techniques useful not only in coal mine reclamation, but to the reclamation of other disturbed lands throughout the West.  While surface coal mining is by its nature a disruptive process, active reclamation is effective in returning once mined land into effective places for grazing and wildlife.
The University of Wyoming Research Corporation is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit research entity known as the Western Research Institute, funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Highway Administration to supports these organizations’ mandates for the benefit of the Nation.
In the energy sector, WRI continues its efforts in coal conversion and upgrading, power generation, waste management and utilization, alternative fuels, environmental remediation, renewable energy technologies, and bioprocessing.
WRI is supporting the utilities on a number of emission issues.  For example, WRI has built a test-scale Combustion Test Facility that mimics a coal-fired utility boiler.  This facility is now supporting technology development and verification projects for utilities, for coal technology companies and combustion and emissions control equipment manufacturers.  The following are examples of the projects being conducted:  testing of NOx reduction technologies (with Breen Energy Solutions); testing of Hg capture technologies (with MoboTec U.S.A.); testing of strategies for multi-pollutant control (with Headwaters, Inc.).
WRI has developed a patented pre-combustion mercury removal process that first dries the coal, then uses the hot recycle gas to remove the mercury.  Unlike post-combustion processes that remove mercury from the flue gas, WRI’s patented process removes the mercury from the coal prior to combustion.  The process has been shown to remove up to 80 percent of the mercury in PRB coal (additional mercury is removed during combustion).  Not only is this technology competitive with post-combustion processes on a cost basis, it also is easily integrated into a power plant, and the treated coal product increases plant efficiency by 3-4 percent for Powder River Basin (PRB) coal.  What’s more, the water removed from the coal can be condensed and used at the power plant for cooling and other uses, a considerable benefit in the arid West.  A recent economic study sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute showed the WRI process to be one of the lowest-cost technologies for removing mercury from PRB coal-fired power plants.  In February 2006, WRI was notified by the Department of Energy that this project was selected for an award to support commercial scale-up.  The DoE funding of approximately $1 million will be matched by approximately $460,000 from industry-affiliated co-sponsors Electric Power Research Institute, Southern Company, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, North Dakota Industrial Commission, Montana-Dakota Utilities, Detroit Edison and SaskPower.
WRI supports the coal industry in mine reclamation through the development of a novel bio-based source treatment of acid mine drainage (AMD).  Although the high-sulfur coals of the East make this problem more widespread in the eastern half of the country, acid mine drainage is associated with hard rock mining and coal mining throughout the United States.  Other processes treat the drainage through neutralization.  WRI has partnered with Kennecott Energy to demonstrate the effectiveness of the bio-based source treatment process at a mine in Tennessee.  The results to date have confirmed that the process effectively controls acid mine drainage by controlling the source of the acid within the mine.  Additional demonstrations are being planned with other coal companies at other mines.
Since the first commercial coal bed natural gas (CBNG) well was established in the Powder River Basin in 1986, CBNG production has grown explosively and now constitutes a major resource within the energy mix for Wyoming, the region and the Nation.  More than 40,000 wells are expected to be drilled in the next decade alone.  The management of the produced water, however, remains a significant consideration.  When an operator drills a CBNG well, large amounts of water are withdrawn in order to free the methane to be extracted.  In some areas of Wyoming and Montana, the water quality is such that it cannot be used for agriculture, livestock or discharge into surface streams without causing degradation of the water.  WRI is working with developers and others to demonstrate treatment methods that will allow the beneficial use of the produced waters.  For example, WRI is working with CBM Associates to demonstrate an application that allows the water to be used for irrigation purposes.  WRI also is exploring the use of CBNG produced water in power plants to reduce the draw of fresh water for cooling and other plant purposes.
WRI is working to develop enabling technologies for zero-emissions coal-based power plants of the future.  With “oxycombustion,” fuel is combusted in pure oxygen (rather than air which contain considerable nitrogen gas) and flue gas is recycled back into the furnace to maintain optimum burning conditions.  Because oxycombustion excludes nitrogen, the byproduct is nearly pure carbon dioxide, a waste that can be more effectively managed.  The cost of oxygen, however, is a major issue in the development of sequestration-ready power systems of the future.  Working with a specialty gas manufacturer, BOC Process Gas Solutions (Murray Hill, New Jersey), WRI is developing a novel technology for the lower-cost production of oxygen that takes advantage of the oxygen “storage” properties of the mineral perovskite.  The cost of producing oxygen using the BOC Catalytic Autothermal Reformer (CAR) technology is estimated to be 20 to 30 percent lower than the cost of cryogenic air separation.
A hydrogen project now underway at Western Research Institute and the University of Wyoming is expected to yield a cheaper and easier way to produce pure hydrogen from gasified coal and other mixed gases.  The new process advances the water-gas shift process whereby coal is reacted with steam (water) and oxygen to produce a synthesis gas.  Under a U.S. Department of Energy grant, WRI and the University of Wyoming are developing a device that combines water-gas shift technology with improved hydrogen separation to maximize the total hydrogen produced.   The University of Wyoming is leading the development of a ceramic catalyst, while WRI will test a variety of vanadium alloy foil membranes for durability and optimum effectiveness at lower temperatures.  Finally, the ceramic catalyst and the vanadium membrane will be integrated into a single stackable device that can operate at lower temperatures.
Through this testimony, I want to make apparent that Wyoming is a major player in the Nation’s energy production.  We desire to have a much greater role in processes associated with the conversion of coal into other forms of energy.  The University of Wyoming has established the School of Energy Resources for this and other reasons.  It will have a very important role in research, outreach and education regarding energy production.  The Western Research Institute continues to apply knowledge leading to new and efficient production technologies that are less polluting but will result in meaningful new uses for the Nation’s energy supply.

Mr. Chairman, thank-you for the opportunity to provide testimony to this committee.