SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Driving across the upper Midwest, it is farm fields as far as the eye can see. Maybe that's why they call this the corn belt. Now, two companies want to build carbon capture pipelines across these same farm fields. Pipelines that they say are necessary to keep the ethanol industry alive.
"We need to keep this industry going and as much as I've been involved, I recognize the way to have long-term viability and certainty in the ethanol industry or biofuels industry is to lower our carbon intensity scores."
Kelly Nieuwenhuis is a farmer in northwest Iowa. It's his 40th year in the fields. He's signed on to have the two pipelines installed through his farmland.
"It's critical that we get the projects done and ensures the long-term viability and put that certainty behind the biofuels industry," Nieuwenhuis, who is also heavily involved in the ethanol industry, told me on a visit to his farm this winter.
THE NEXT STEP IN INNOVATION
"This is important for agriculture because it's the next step in change for agriculture."
Summit Carbon Solution and Heartland Greenway's Navigator CO2 pipelines will capture the carbon dioxide ethanol plants produce, liquefy it into a pipeline and sequester it deep underground."And what this does for the ethanol industry is it really stabilizes their balance sheet as well," explained Lee Blank, CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions. "It gives them another source of revenue that they can use in their plant and into their plant complex."
Ethanol producers say this is a benefit to the American farmer. "I wish I could predict the future for Lincolnway Energy," said Chris Cleveland, plant manager at Lincolnway Energy, a Summit-partnered ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa, "but it would be a big plus to be able to continue with the growth and be able to sequester your co2 into the pipeline."
Lincolnway Energy already captures some of its carbon dioxide and scrubs the rest as atmospheric emissions. They say this partnership is also helping the climate, as well as economic growth, job security and the future of farmers and ethanol producers.
" A facility that adopts carbon capture technology, like what we are proposing, has the ability to reduce the carbon score of that end gallon of ethanol by nearly 50%. And that's really significant," said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at Navigator CO2.
"This industry doesn't look the same as what it did 20 years ago, it doesn't look the same as it did 10 years ago."
"It's continued to innovate, optimize, improve, and get better. This is just another one of those stepping stones of what I believe will continue to be a very long trajectory."
THE FUTURE IS CARBON
A trajectory that takes carbon from throwaway emissions to a commodity for the future.
"It's a major bite of the carbon apple," said Blank. "And so when I look at this project and I think about what it can mean for premium markets for ethanol, and someday maybe premium markets for the dried distillers, which is a byproduct off of this product, off of this plant as well, as I think about what that means for the future of agriculture."
"CO2 has the potential to be much the same way," said Burns-Thompson. "It is right now a byproduct that has the opportunity to provide additional value to those facilities. They necessarily need the infrastructure to be able to do that. And that's how these infrastructure projects are being developed to be able to provide that."
As Nieuwenhuis says, the carbon commodity is here to stay. "If you've noticed over the last five to 10 years, carbon became a commodity. And we're not talking only about carbon intensities, but carbon credits, and it's not going away."
"We see the infrastructure continuing to grow not only throughout the ethanol space," said Burns-Thompson, "but again in a variety of sectors throughout the Corn Belt."
"I don't want to see that corn demand go away, said Blank. "So the opportunity for us to drive a stronger balance sheet into the ethanol industry, which what this will do will deliver longevity for this industry which is longevity for the US farm game. It's certainly part of the future without a doubt."
"Carbon capture, carbon transportation and carbon management is absolutely the future," said Burns-Thompson.
FOLLOW FOR MORE
"Along the Route: A Pipeline Discussion" is a multi-part series of reports looking at everything from the companies that want to build them to those "for" and those "against" and a deeper dive into to carbon and ethanol industries at the center of the project.
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