BEULAH - One of the most unique energy plants in the nation is looking at the possibility of expanding its portfolio of byproducts, which would be beneficial to not just the plant, but farmers, as well.
Dakota Gasification Co., which is a subsidiary of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, is conducting a study to determine the viability of building a urea plant at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah. The main product of the plant is synthetic natural gas, which is manufactured from coal through a gasification process. The Great Plains Synfuels Plant is the only commercial-scale coal gasification plant in the United States that manufactures natural gas.
Daryl Hill, spokesman for Basin Electric, said a FEED study, which stands for front-end engineering and design, began its initial phase last month and should be complete sometime in mid-2013.
Dan Feldner/MDN • The Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah is seen in this photo from April 5, 2011. Dakota Gasification Co., which owns the plant and is a subsidiary of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, is conducting a study to determine the viability of building a urea plant on site, which would add a ninth byproduct to the facility’s portfolio.
"What that study does is determine where, how, if, when a urea plant could be added. In concept it's good to say yeah, I think we could do something like this," Hill said. "But in reality the FEED study says this is how you do it, this is where you put it, this is where the actual production facility gets tied into the existing infrastructure. This is where you put your foundation. It's really the detail side of it."
If the decision is made to go ahead with the urea plant, it would make it the ninth byproduct produced there.
The eight current byproducts produced by the gasification plant are ammonium sulfate, an agricultural fertilizer; anhydrous ammonia, another fertilizer for farming which is also used as a feedstock for producing various chemicals; carbon dioxide, which can be used for enhanced oil recovery; dephenolized cresylic acid, used in the manufacture of pesticides and products such as wire enamel solvent and epoxy resins; krypton and xenon gases, which are used for specialty lighting such as high-intensity lighting and lasers; liquid nitrogen, used for food processing refrigeration; naphtha, which contains products that can be used as a gasoline blend stock, in making solvents and in benzene production; and phenol, used for the production of resins in plywood manufacturing and in the casting industry.
Urea is a granular farm fertilizer, and would add to the other agricultural byproducts already produced at the plant.
"The market for it appears to be quite attractive," Hill said. "That's why we decided to take a look at this, see what the payback is and all these other aspects."
Dakota Gasification Co. didn't build the plant, but bought it in 1988 after the original developers went bankrupt. Hill said the byproducts were one of the philosophies Dakota Gasification Co. developed as a revenue hedge against the highly volatile nature of natural gas prices.
"So if natural gas prices are low at least you've got a good revenue stream coming from byproduct development," Hill said. "And when natural gas prices are high you still have a revenue stream coming from byproducts."
Building a new urea plant would continue that philosophy if the study shows it would be economically feasible. Should they decide to go ahead with construction, Hill said the urea plant would probably be complete in late 2015 or early 2016 and would produce 1,100 tons of urea a day.
In a potentially related development, Dakota Gasification Co. is adding a new 30,000-ton ammonia storage facility. This will be the second 30,000-ton storage facility at the plant, which also has a small amount of supplemental ammonia storage. Once complete and in service next spring, the new storage facility will basically double the plant's ammonia storage capacity.
"Of course anhydrous ammonia is a very popular fertilizer for the ag industry, and adding a second tank gives us more storage so we can run the anhydrous ammonia plant, which is within the gasification plant site, more continuously," Hill said. "We were running into instances where the anhydrous plant was running but then all of our storage was full. And of course the high time for selling anhydrous is the spring and fall, so if our storage was full we'd have to shut the anhydrous plant down and wait until there was space again."
Hill said the additional storage will give them more flexibility in running the ammonia plant and having more product available.
As it happens, anhydrous ammonia is one of the key ingredients used to make urea. While the increased ammonia storage will be helpful no matter what, Hill noted that doubling the plant's storage capacity of one of the ingredients needed to make urea will definitely be a timely boon should plans to add that byproduct to the Great Plains Synfuels Plant go forward.
"To make urea it requires anhydrous ammonia and carbon dioxide, and both of those are manufactured at the synfuels plant," Hill said. "They're both available to do that."