What if carbon dioxide from burning coal at power plants could be contained and turned into something useful?

A group of electric co-ops and other partners who want to investigate that issue recently broke ground on a research facility at the Dry Fork Station, a power plant in northeast Wyoming owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

More than a dozen sites around the globe now study “carbon capture” as one possible solution to climate change, but they generally don’t offer the real-world conditions the Integrated Test Center partners say their site will offer when it’s finished next summer.

The facility will allow researchers to place equipment that can test ways to grab carbon dioxide from a working power plant and use it in ways the world might find valuable.

In addition to Basin Electric’s involvement, financial support comes from Denver-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The state of Wyoming has been the main funder and organizer of the test center, and another key partner is the XPRIZE Foundation.

XPRIZE Foundation is an organization that seeks “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.”

In the past, it has offered cash prizes for space travel and health innovations. More recently it announced two $10 million prizes for “transformational approaches to converting (carbon dioxide) emissions into valuable products.”

The carbon XPRIZE will be awarded in 2020, but this past spring’s preliminary deadline has already produced several applicants, says Dr. Paul Bunje, principal scientist and senior director of energy and environment at XPRIZE. He says those entries have come from “big corporations, garage tinkerers, universities and small and medium-sized businesses.”

The variety of planned research includes using carbon dioxide to make fuels, ingredients in chemical processes, or thin, extremely strong “supermaterials” of the future.

XPRIZE contestants will begin moving equipment to the test center in the summer of 2018, says Dr. Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE director of technical operations. And what will that look like?

“Some of the equipment will be tall and skinny, some of it low and wide,” says Extavour. “Some of it might be in a smooth steel case, others will be exposed pipes, others will be, who knows what?”

To read more about the carbon XPRIZE, visit www.carbon.xprize.org.

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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