Prairie Research Institute (PRI) leads applied research in carbon capture and storage, geothermal energy, and biofuels, helping to advance Illinois, and the world, toward a more sustainable future.
PRI leads applied research into the safe, effective, and economical capture, use, and storage of CO2 from power plants and industrial operations, preventing these greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere.
CO2 from power plants and industrial operations must be captured before it can be sequestered underground or beneficially used. With backing from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), PRI and industry partners are deploying advanced carbon capture technologies that are proven to remove 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from emissions.
The geology of Illinois is ideal for safe carbon storage, with the Mt. Simon Sandstone capped by layers of sedimentary rock that act as a “seal.” The Illinois Basin region, which covers most of Illinois as well as southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky, has a storage capacity ranging between 12 billion and 172 billion metric tons of CO2.
For almost 20 years, PRI geologists and engineers have been developing methods for the safe capture and underground storage of CO2 from power plants and industrial operations, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Multiple projects have shown that carbon storage can be done safely and effectively in Illinois.
The PRI-led Illinois Basin-Decatur project (IBDP) recently concluded and fully met project storage targets, storing approximately 1 million metric tons of CO2—all of the captured carbon emissions from ADM’s biofuel plant operations—in the Mt. Simon Sandstone, paving the way for commercial-scale use of the sandstone for CO2 storage. This world-class project gained one of the first EPA Underground Injection Control Class VI permits (for wells used for geologic sequestration of CO2) and has garnered international interest, with over 700 visitors from 29 countries.
A second ADM project, the Illinois Industrial Sources Carbon Capture and Storage Project, also is meeting its target of storing all captured emissions from corn processing and has captured and stored 2.4 million metric tons of CO2 since it began in April 2017.
Carbon Management at Power Plants
PRI leads the large-scale pilot testing of a Linde-BASF CO2 capture technology at City Water, Light & Power (CWLP) in Springfield, Illinois. When the 10-megawatt capture system is built and begins to process 5 percent of the Dallman Unit 4 flue gas, it will capture more than 90 percent of those CO2 emissions. By demonstrating effective and economic carbon capture, this project is a building block to commercialization and wider adoption of the carbon capture technology.
Through a previous DOE project, PRI has demonstrated that there is significant carbon storage potential in this area, and PRI scientists are conducting a Phase 2 commercial-scale characterization of a potential carbon storage site in Macon County.
PRI also leads a project to design a next-generation power plant at CWLP that both reduces emissions and captures and uses carbon dioxide. The design combines a 270-megawatt ultra-supercritical coal boiler, an 87-megawatt natural gas combustion turbine generator, a 50-megawatt energy storage subsystem, and a post-combustion carbon capture subsystem. The captured CO2 will be used to feed algae, which in turn will be used to develop biofuels.
PRI and industry partners are working on a front-end engineering design (FEED) study to retrofit the Prairie State Generating Company (PSGC) in Marissa, Illinois, with a system capable of capturing more than 90 percent of treated carbon emissions. The plan is to incorporate additional carbon offset strategies to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions.
PSGC also is one of two sites included in the Illinois Storage Corridor project led by PRI. This project involves characterizing and constructing carbon storage operations at PGSC and the One Earth Energy ethanol facility in Gibson City. The two sites will provide a combined storage capacity of 6.5 million metric tons of CO2 annually.
Two DOE-supported carbon-capture research projects are ongoing at U of I’s Abbott Power Plant. PRI is working with industry partner Linde to test three technologies for reducing aerosol particle concentrations in flue gas. This work could help make solvent-based carbon capture technology more economical at commercial scales. The second project is advancing the development of a CO2 absorption technology that could dramatically improve energy efficiency, lower the equipment cost and footprint, and maintain operational simplicity.
Carbon Management at Industrial Sites
Industrial operations—such as cement and steel manufacture, refineries, chemical plants, etc.—also are significant sources of CO2 that must be managed. PRI recently began a DOE-backed FEED study for a commercial-scale carbon capture retrofit of an industrial facility in Missouri. The captured CO2 will be pipeline ready for geological storage.
Direct Air Capture and Storage
PRI is also addressing capture of non-point source CO2 from transportation and other activities. PRI and industry partners recently began a DOE-backed project to develop preliminary designs and determine feasibility for the first commercial-scale direct air capture and storage system (DAC+S) for CO2 removal in the United States. This 18-month project will explore the possibility of pulling 100,000 tonnes of CO2 from the air annually. By using three test sites across the U.S., the project will examine the potential impact of different climate conditions on CO2 direct air capture.
PRI scientists investigate innovative ways to transform waste into biofuel.
Algae, for example, can be grown to produce fuel, but current methods are costly. In a project funded by DOE, PRI scientists are working to improve algal growth rates by re-using two types of waste: municipal wastewater and CO2 captured from power plants. Using these waste products to grow algae could make the cost of algal biofuels competitive with fossil fuels.
Municipal wastewater can be used to feed algae because it contains high nutrient concentrations that must be removed before the water is sanitized and released. Traditional nutrient removal processes involve a series of biological and chemical methods. If the nutrients are used to grow algae, then the costs of removing those nutrients go down, while algae growers do not need to purchase nutrient products.
Algae grow and can uptake CO2 faster than any other photosynthetic crop. Feeding captured CO2 from power plants into algal growth tanks can boost growth rates and enable power plants to reduce their carbon emissions.
PRI scientists also are designing and synthesizing innovative catalysts for efficient conversion of biocrude oil and demonstrating their effectiveness for converting biocrude oils into various useful hydrocarbons and transportation fuels.
PRI leads efforts to leverage Illinois’ favorable groundwater conditions to develop reliable, sustainable, cost-effective geothermal power.
This includes investigating the feasibility of tapping the geothermal energy resources in the Illinois Basin for heating and cooling of large facilities, such as universities and military bases. PRI scientists played a key role in implementing a geothermal exchange system for the University of Illinois’ newly constructed Campus Instructional Facility, which will reduce the facility’s energy use by 58%.