Teamwork and expertise drive success with major decarbonization projects


From 2018 to 2020, ISTC submitted over 200 proposals for technology R&D projects, winning more than 60 percent of those projects and bringing in more than $84 million in external funding. Major partners include the U.S.  Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the state of Illinois.

“We have a very strong technical team with extensive industrial experience,” explained Kevin OBrien, director of ISTC and the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS). “The key thing with experience is everyone is bringing their own knowledge and expertise to the table, whether it’s knowing permitting and regulatory procedures, understanding how to scale up and construct these large systems, or understanding techno-economics and lifecycle assessments.”

ISTC’s planning process is comprehensive and organized. The journey from lab to commercial scale involves a team of engineers, accountants, and project managers who focus on correctly handling every detail.

“We realized long ago that executing a successful interdisciplinary research endeavor at a commercial scale is a meticulous journey that requires significant experience, technical expertise, and trial and error,” OBrien said. “We’re unique in that we can check all of those boxes at a very high level and offer new technologies and opportunities to our partner host sites.”

One of those partners is City Water, Light, and Power (CWLP) in Springfield, Illinois. Over the past 15 years, CWLP has partnered with ISTC on several projects, including work on emissions, CO2, and wastewater. “We’ve really run the environmental gamut with ISTC,” said PJ Becker, environmental health and safety manager at CWLP. “ISTC has been a responsive and professional partner and we’ve been able to benefit immensely from the technology.”

ISTC environmental engineer Stephanie Brownstein is the lead for the large pilot test of the Linde-BASF carbon capture technology at CWLP. “We’re a diverse group with people on our team who are experienced with fieldwork and process work to be a liaison between partners,” she said. “Also, we don’t own the technology, which helps us work to be a broader advocate for everyone. We’re fighting for the success of the project as a whole, not just a single entity.”

Prairie State Generating Company (PSGC) in Marissa, Illinois, is another of ISTC’s project partners. ISTC, ISWS, the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), and partners Kiewit Engineering Group, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, and Sargent & Lundy will design a system to capture more than 90 percent of carbon emissions at the facility and incorporate additional carbon offset strategies to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions.

The FEED study is made possible through a $15 million grant from the DOE Office of Fossil Energy, which is administered by the National Energy Technology Laboratory. PSGC contributed $3.75 million to the project.

“We envision ourselves at the forefront of the carbon capture industry and we’re currently working toward building the largest commercial carbon capture system in the world,” said Jason Dietsch, project manager for the front-end engineering design (feed) study at PSGC.”

“That vision is what pushes us to meet and exceed every milestone we set with DOE. We are part of a very broad team with very different backgrounds that complement each other, but I think what makes our team at ISTC uniquely successful is that we understand that we succeed as a team and we fail as a team,” Dietsch said.

With multiple major projects in progress or about to launch, OBrien
is optimistic about what lies ahead.

“For someone like me who started back in the lab, to see this come together is huge,” he said. “We aren’t just working at lab scale anymore, we are working at commercial scale, and it’s an exciting time to have this opportunity for ideas and concepts for carbon reduction that we have been working on for a long time to be deployed on a big stage.”