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North Dakota's Lignite Industry Leads to the Way



By Mike Holmes

September 6, 2019 - The Lignite Research and Development partnership between the state of North Dakota and the regional lignite industry is just one example of how the coal industry in the state distinguishes itself from other generation sources found in the United States.

Much of the research has focused on improving efficiencies and reducing emissions at the power plants while ensuring proper land reclamation at the lignite surface mines. The result has been an exemplary environmental record. North Dakota is one of only 14 clean air states and several of the state’s surface mines have been recognized for outstanding land reclamation. Mined land in North Dakota must be returned to a state as good as or better than it was before mining prior to bond release.


Mike Holmes

While we have a successful track record, the Lignite R&D program is perhaps more important now than it ever has been. More work and millions of dollars are being invested into cost-effective technologies that will allow new and existing power plants to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2) underground. Studies show that CO2 captured from coal-based power plants can add value to existing oil fields in western North Dakota add thousands of jobs to the state’s economy.

We are working with partners around the world to identify and develop cost effective technologies that work on lignite-based power plants, including technology experts at the Energy & Environmental Research Center, Barr Engineering and the University of North Dakota.

Our efforts in this regard are buoyed by the experience gathered at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah. The plant turns North Dakota lignite into synthetic natural gas, fertilizers and other valuable products while capturing the carbon dioxide. For more than 20 years that CO2 has traveled by pipeline to the oil fields in Saskatchewan where it is used to recover oil from partially depleted reservoirs. The CO2 is then safely sequestered underground.

North Dakota’s lignite industry has led the way in technology breakthroughs for more than three decades. With continued leadership from industry and the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Team North Dakota will create advancements that will enable companies to use the state’s vast lignite reserves. Technology advancements are key to maintaining lignite industry jobs and the clean, affordable and reliable electricity that powers our regional economy.

Mike Holmes is the Vice President of Research and Development Lignite Energy Council.