Energy projects move forward: 2016 will see research continuing across all energy sectors

Research projects at North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center are on the rise. EERC's total research awards increased for fiscal year 2015. In the 12-month period ending June 30, the center had $28.4 million in new awards, a 15.9 p...

Research projects at North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center are on the rise.

EERC’s total research awards increased for fiscal year 2015. In the 12-month period ending June 30, the center had $28.4 million in new awards, a 15.9 percent increase over the previous year.

And moving into 2016, the projects continue across all energy sectors, said CEO Tom Erickson.

Oil and Gas


Preventing leaks during transport has been a major crux of oil and gas development in the Bakken.

EERC recently delivered a final report on a pipeline technology study and is moving toward a demonstration project.

“The focus there is to examine technologies that could help in earlier detections of a leak,” Erickson said.

Which technologies will be tested are not locked in yet but one option is advanced supervisory control and data acquisition, which is routinely used to measure flow and pressure in a variety of pipe systems, according to Erickson. Adding sensors and monitoring an entire oil pipeline system, which can involve about 750 sections connected in various manners, can be more difficult.

In addition, EERC will test other types of sensors and may test the use of unmanned aerial systems for monitoring purposes as well.

Other projects include testing new uses for natural gas produced by wells to reduce flaring, treating water used for fracking for reuse and utilizing carbon dioxide to enhance oil recovery.

Erickson said there is no North Dakota field test for CO2 injection yet but the center is hoping to establish one within the next year. It is still looking for industry partners on the initiative.

Other possible gases for enhanced oil recovery are being tested in the lab.



Developing carbon dioxide technologies also is important to coal. As federal regulations requiring reductions in carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants go into effect, EERC is expecting state funding for lab testing of a promising, zero-emissions technology called the Allam Cycle.

The Allam Cycle, invented by a company called 8 Rivers, uses pressurized carbon dioxide rather than steam to generate power more efficiently. Excess carbon is collected.

Plants also will need places to store or sell collected carbon. Ideally, companies would be able to sell it for enhanced oil recovery but what can't be sold has to go somewhere.

Underground aquifers with heavy brine content may be one possibility.

Carbon would be injected to reduce pressure from the brine, increasing space for carbon to be stored there, Erickson said. The primary focus would be carbon storage but it could possibly be used to provide a water resource if the brine is extracted, he said.

EERC received U.S. Department of Energy funding for a lab study on how a possible field study could be done, according to Erickson, who said the goal is to ultimately deploy a field study in North Dakota.


Another Aquistore project for carbon sequestration was recently deployed in Canada.

EERC also is monitoring where the CO2 goes after it's injected underground.

Erickson said seismic sensor array technology has been deployed at a site in Montana to track the carbons movement through a reservoir 2 miles below the surface.

"We fully expect to be doing a number of things to address the Clean Power Plan," Erickson said of research at the center related to the federal carbon regulations.

Work also is being done at EERC to increase coal plant efficiency, whether that be through coal drying or upgrading fuel to reduce moisture and sulfur content.

The burning of biomass in conjunction with coal is another opportunity being studied on a niche basis.


Erickson said EERC also is studying small solar applications for utility companies in this region. Because the area is not particularly sunny, he said large solar projects are not efficient but residential and small commercial applications may have a possibility.

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