Dakota Gas to study adding primary reformer to Great Plains Synfuels Plant

At their May meeting, the Dakota Gas board approved a study to look into the feasibility of adding a primary reformer to the Great Plains Synfuels Plant. The primary reformer would allow the Synfuels Plant to continue fertilizer production with or without coal gasification, keeping options open for operating the plant depending on factors including commodity prices, available fuel types, and the regulatory climate.

The decision to move forward with the study means Basin Electric will contract with an entity to conduct the study, and will begin technology assessment and selection, select a licensor, and begin preliminary engineering design. The study is called a FEED study, or Front-End Engineering and Design study.

Gavin McCollam, Basin Electric vice president of engineering and construction, said the goal of the FEED study is to increase the accuracy of the estimated budget. “Especially with projects like this, there are so many moving parts on an existing facility. The Synfuels Plant itself is already a very complex station, and this is putting something else that is very complex right smack dab in the middle of it. So you can’t ‘hand wave’ that, you’ve got to get in there and do some digging and figure out what goes where, how do you hook it up, what do the existing foundations look like, what do you have to work around to get this to work?” he said. “If you don’t take the time to do that properly, you get surprises and surprises cost money. So we’re trying to avoid that.”

McCollam said work has gone into this project for a couple years at a very high level, and the Class 5 estimate for the project is $199 million. “But our Class 5 estimate is quite inaccurate. It’s about -25% to +65% accuracy. That tells you it is anywhere from $150 million to $325 million, and the board and management are not going to authorize something with that amount of unknowns. The FEED study will get us to a Class 3 estimate, with -20% to +30% accuracy.”

Lucas Teigen, Basin Electric manager of field services, says the study will take one year. “This FEED study will take that long because we have to select a licensor to conduct the preliminary design for the inside battery limits portion of the project. (‘Inside battery limits’ is the design within the box on the engineering design that is unique to one piece of equipment, in this case, the primary reformer. ‘Outside battery limits’ is the engineering design outside of that unique equipment.) We will send out a request-for-information package in June to technology licensors, which will get us the inside battery limits design through what is called a process design package. Without that package, we can’t get the inside battery limits design, which means we also can’t accurately represent the outside battery limits design. Our contractor will use that information to integrate the design into the existing facility.”

Dale Johnson, Synfuels Plant manager, said if the Dakota Gas board would choose to go forward with adding a primary reformer, fertilizer production would continue with or without the coal gasification process. “This study will provide us more information to make long-term business decisions based on projections for commodity prices, opportunities with Bakken gases, and the regulatory climate,” Johnson said.

Teigen said there are several off-ramps built into this project. “The first off-ramp was the point where the board would authorize, or choose not to authorize the FEED study. The next off-ramp will be at the end of the FEED study, which we are forecasting to be the third quarter of 2022, when they choose whether or not to go forward with full project authorization,” he said. “We would also be looking for detailed engineering authorization, and likely licensor equipment authorization.”

If the Dakota Gas board approves the project in 2022, and the project continues to completion, the primary reformer would potentially go into service in 2026.

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