Former Campbell County Commissioner and Gillette City Councilman Stephen F. Hughes, 66, was found dead inside his business, Landmark Inc., early Friday morning, according to information released by …
From wind to uranium, Wyoming has all kinds of natural resources. It has been successfully exporting them domestically and internationally for decades.
But can the state so dependent on revenues from its natural resources, sustain itself by digging and shipping its resources elsewhere forever? Or is there a way to use all of these resources in a more efficient and cleaner way?
Occupied with these and other questions, Wyoming leadership commissioned the Idaho National Laboratory in March to evaluate Wyoming’s energy future.
The 93-page report was released Wednesday. It offers a progressive, somewhat complex model that will take years, if not decades to achieve.
But having the report now is a good thing: It’s a starting point for everybody in the state to begin working in that direction, said Rob Hurless, Gov. Matt Mead’s energy strategy adviser and deputy director of the Carbon Management Institute at the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming.
What is it?
Spearheaded by the state, the study was done in partnership with the Wyoming Business Council, the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, the Idaho National Laboratory and the NGNP Industry Alliance Limited.
It focused specifically on the benefits of hybrid energy systems that would take advantage of all of the state’s energy resources.
A hybrid energy system (in other words, a facility, plant or energy complex) would combine two or more energy conversion technologies to produce a variety of products that have much higher value than the raw energy resources alone. An example would be transportation fuels, chemical feedstock and electricity derived from coal and natural gas.
Although it would take years to bring such a facility to Wyoming, the study provides a strategic goal for everyone in the state, not just industry insiders and elected officials, to start working in that direction, Hurless said.
“We are looking at units that are measured in years rather than months,” he said. “This report is different from many studies of such nature done in the past. It’s looking out many years, 25,30, 40 years. In that sense it has a longtime frame, but the other side of that is it also has a strategic perspective ... What do we need to do to optimize these resources and if we are willing to look at the long-term, what possibilities open up? I think that’s part of the value of the report is to put a framework around the thought process.”
One example out of many possible configurations of a hybrid energy system is a nuclear power plant that supplies electricity to a regional power grid that also receives a large amount of variable wind-generated power.
This type of hybrid system can offer several advantages, according to the study, including:
Hybrid energy systems as described in the report are now conceptual, said Mark Northam, director of the School of Energy Resources.
“If we move toward implementation in Wyoming, it will be a long-term program and will indeed be progressive,” he said. “The study is really a forward-looking effort. Hybrid energy systems would be developed over decades — in stages — as technologies become viable.”
When will it be built?
How soon these hybrid energy systems could be built in the state is hard to say and will largely depend on the economics of the projects, Northam said.
The state already is taking steps toward creating the industry of value-added products in the state. An example is the proposed DKRW Advanced Fuels coal-to-liquids plant to be built in Medicine Bow.
It would make about 11,000 barrels per day of gasoline using the methanol-to-gasoline process. The product gasoline will be sent through a new 100-mile pipeline to Cheyenne, where the entire plant output has been committed to Vitol Inc., a fuel trading company.
All of the byproduct CO2 made in the gasification step will be sold to Denbury Resources for use in enhanced oil recovery. The $1.8 billion project is now seeking financing.
Another company — Casper-based Nerd Gas Co.— also is pursuing a project that seeks to add value to Wyoming’s natural gas. The modular project would convert 10 to 20 million standard cubic feet of natural gas per day to 1,000 to 2,000 barrels per day of diesel and naphtha (flammable liquids). No other information about the project was available for the study, although a company representative said that a more detailed announcement is planned for the near future.
Projects of that nature take a tremendous amount of patience, even if it’s a solid concept like the DKRW, Hurless said. They involve a lot of money and don’t happen overnight.
The challenge that the state will face in the next months is to transition from the aspiration outlined in the study to actual steps toward achieving it.
“What does that mean for research, what does that mean for investments, what position do we take with respect to the federal folks, what relationships should we be developing with the private sector companies, because at the end of the day, the private sector folks will be the ones who will write the check to make this happen,” Hurless said.
The first demonstration project could be a public/private partnership, much like FutureGen, but ultimately the hybrid energy system projects will be owned by the private sector, Northam said.
Why is it being done?
These hybrid energy systems would provide greater flexibility to Wyoming’s natural resources if product markets change. If, for example, in 30 years gasoline were no longer needed in large amounts for the light vehicle fleet, other fuel or chemical products could be made from the syngas formerly used to make it.
But with that added flexibility comes higher quality of life for the entire state, which so heavily depends on income from its natural resources.
“I think one of the values of the study is to think a little differently than perhaps we have in the past and understand that there is huge potential out there that will make a difference potentially in the quality of life 30 years out. But what would we do today to start moving along that pathway?” Hurless said.