Carbon, Research

Adding Up the Numbers of a Ground-Breaking Project

In late October, staff at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) celebrated the success of Project Carbon and thanked engineers and operators for their hard work during the past months. T-shirts that read “I survived Project Carbon 2019” were gifted as a small token of appreciation to the crews that made it happen. As John Kay, EERC Principal Engineer, stated, “There is not another crew in the world who could have done this.”

Project Carbon began in September 2017 as a pre-front-end engineering and design (pre-FEED) study for Project Tundra. Project Tundra is a bold initiative to build the world’s largest carbon capture facility in North Dakota. Innovative technologies are being researched to capture up to 90% of the CO2 emissions from the Milton R. Young Station’s Unit 2 generator – the equivalent of permanently taking 600,000 gasoline-fueled vehicles off the road. 

Four EERC engineers designed the carbon capture system. Following approval, preparation for field work at the EERC began and lasted for 8 months. The carbon capture system was assembled at the EERC in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and tested for 4 weeks before it was finally ready for transport to Minnkota’s Milton R. Young Station, a two-unit, lignite coal-based power plant located near Center, North Dakota.

Moving the capture system from Grand Forks to Center required three tractor trailers and 2 months of installation time. It was installed by EERC employees while temperatures dropped well below zero, to nearly  -35°F. Over half a mile of piping was installed at the Milton R. Young Station, and more than a dozen on-site changes were implemented.

The carbon capture equipment was operated by 31 people during the 4 months of operation. An additional six people at the EERC spent around 80% of their time in logistical support of field activities.

A single shift of field work involved over 16 hours in a vehicle, which means that over 500 hours were spent in vehicles during testing alone. In total, an estimated 69,259 miles were traveled by EERC employees during this time. All together, they spent more than 750 nights in hotels from the start of assembly through the completion of field testing.

“The EERC’s team provided us with invaluable knowledge and expertise through Project Carbon,” said Gerry Pfau, Minnkota’s senior manager of project development. “The carbon capture pilot system installed at the Young Station produced real-world data that will be vitally important as we begin the advanced engineering and design phase of Project Tundra. Working with the EERC helped us take another positive step toward making this exciting project a reality.”

The carbon capture equipment was operated for a total of over 2,500 hours, and around 100 metric tons of CO2 was separated from flue gas; enough CO2 to fill 11 million party balloons.

Project Carbon will wrap up at the end of 2019. Project Tundra is now headed to a FEED study, the final engineering step before attempting to secure financing and construction authorization. The project was recently awarded $9.8 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to support the study. 

“The EERC is extremely appreciative of all the time and effort invested by the operations crew to make Project Carbon a success. Ground-breaking projects like these are not possible without people who believe in the work they do.”

Jason Laumb, EERC Assistant director for advanced energy systems

For more information about Project Tundra, please visit

Leave a Reply