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Iowa Company Plans To Capture Midwest Ethanol Plants' Carbon Dioxide, Permanently Store It Underground

A new business in Iowa wants to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol plants. It would pave the way for biorefineries in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas to deliver carbon-neutral fuel to the market.

Summit Carbon Solutions, a business platform formed by Alden-based Summit Agricultural Group, will need to get state and federal permits for an underground pipeline. The pipeline would pump liquefied carbon dioxide from 18 biorefineries into central North Dakota and store it in porous canyons at least a mile underground.

The company will install equipment at the ethanol plants that will take CO2 off of fermentation that is being emitted into the air. The equipment will liquefy the CO2. Each ethanol plant will have a small 6-inch pipeline to carry the CO2 to the main pipeline that will pump it to North Dakota.

Summit Agricultural Group CEO Bruce Rastetter said the project would be the “world’s largest carbon sequestration project to date.” It would take 10 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year, which is equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road annually. Rastetter said it will lower the biorefineries’ carbon footprints.

“[It] will allow them also to access and sell into more low carbon fuel markets, which are continuing to grow across the country,” Rastetter said.

That includes California, which has regulations that incentivize the production and use of low carbon fuels.

The project will cost $2 billion. Rastetter said Summit Carbon Solutions is partnering with the 18 ethanol plants on the cost and using tax credits to help fund the project.

Fermentation, the process of converting sugar into ethanol, generates a lot of CO2, which is a major greenhouse gas that traps heat and accelerates rises in global temperature. Geoff Cooper, the president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said capturing and sequestering that CO2 could be a “game changer” for the ethanol industry.

“And frankly, puts ethanol from corn, ethanol from these facilities on an even keel with the best electric vehicles that are out there in terms of their carbon footprint,” Cooper said.

This map shows the 18 biorefineries in the Midwest participating in Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon capture project.
Summit Carbon Solutions
This map shows the 18 biorefineries in the Midwest participating in Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon capture project.

President Joe Biden has pledged for the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the country, accounting for nearly 30 percent of emissions in 2018. Cooper said if the ethanol industry can contribute to reducing CO2 emissions from transportation, that would be a big step towards net-zero emissions.

“That's why the industry is so interested in pursuing these sorts of technologies that can reduce the carbon intensity of fuel ethanol that's going into vehicles," Cooper said. “Certainly carbon capture is one way to do that.”

Summit Carbon Solutions expects the pipeline project to be up and running in 2024.

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Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.