ALDEN, Iowa — Although final details and permits have yet to be worked out, an Iowa agribusiness company announced plans on Friday, Feb. 19, to build a $2 billion pipeline network that will carry liquefied carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in four states to underground storage in North Dakota.
Twenty ethanol plants, and possibly 20 more in the longer term, agreed to join the company in its venture that will reduce the carbon footprint at the plants by the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road or sequestering about 10 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Justin Kirchhoff, president of Summit Agricultural Group of Alden, Iowa, said the Tharaldson Ethanol plant in Casselton is one of the 20 partners that signed on to the project.
Others are in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. Two other area plants are Green Plains Inc. of Fergus Falls, Minn., and Glacial Lakes Energy of Aberdeen, S.D.
Kirchhoff said the new business platform, called Summit Carbon Solutions, will address the challenge of decarbonization by developing this project, which he said will be the largest carbon capture and storage project in the world using new groundbreaking technology.
He said the path through the states for the main 24-inch trunk pipeline starting in Iowa has yet to be finalized, and permits would have to be obtained.
He also didn't release the location of the large underground saline formations for storage in North Dakota. An estimated 10 wells would be constructed on the sites to put the carbon dioxide underground.
North Dakota was selected for storage because of those geologic formations and also because of favorable regulations for drilling the wells into the formations, Kirchhoff said.
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven said Friday that North Dakota has the right "legal, tax and regulatory environment" for the project.
For the first time in the nation's history, Hoeven said the Environmental Protection Agency has approved a state — North Dakota — to be the primary regulator over the wells and storage.
In an email, Hoeven said the Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership led by the University of North Dakota's Energy & Environmental Research Center has studied and evaluated the pore space throughout the state to determine where geologic storage can be done safely. He also said there is a state legal and regulatory system to ensure companies store the carbon dioxide properly and the wells are maintained over the long term.
Landowners will also receive a financial benefit as they will be compensated for pore space used for storage.
Also helping to make the project feasible is a new tax credit that will help make the project commercially viable.
Hoeven said he helped develop a carbon dioxide storage task force in 2008 when he was governor.
Kirkhhoff said his company has been working on the project for years.
He said they were able to announce the project this week by obtaining enough ethanol plant partners to make the pipeline and storage operation feasible. It's hoped the pipeline network and storage operation can be operational by 2024.
The benefit to the ethanol plants, he said, is that it will help them compete in the long term by sequestering the carbon dioxide to meet environmental targets and regulations and maintain viability down the road in the low-carbon fuel marketplace.
Eventually, Kirchhoff said participating plants will be able to deliver net-zero-carbon fuel.
"It'll have a significant impact on the environment as well as being a job creator," he said.
It's estimated 8,000 to 10,000 jobs will be created in Upper Midwest states to build the pipeline network and the North Dakota storage operation.
Kirchhoff said they didn't have a definite figure on the long-term jobs that will be created.
In the ethanol plant capturing operation, the carbon dioxide created in the fermentation process will be captured by equipment at the plants and compressed into liquified form, then placed into feeder lines that will connect to the main pipeline.
"It's a truly transformational project," Kirchhoff said. "It helps satisfy the urgent global need to decarbonize and meets the ever-growing demand for low-carbon fuels by collaborating with leading biorefineries to capture and store carbon on a scale not yet achieved anywhere in the world."
Summit CEO Bruce Rastetter said the project is "the most impactful development for the biofuels industry and Midwestern agriculture in decades."
Hoeven added that the project demonstrates "our state's leadership in advancing this critical technology that will help us reduce carbon emissions from both traditional and renewable energy sources."
He said it was about supporting domestic energy production. He said similar carbon capturing efforts are underway at other state ethanol plants operated by Red Trail Energy in Richardton and Midwest AgEnergy in Spiritwood and Underwood.