Capturing and storing carbon: Red Trail Energy might become first to store CO2 underground
RICHARDTON—Red Trail Energy may soon be the first ethanol plant to store carbon dioxide underground as part of an environmental and economic effort.
Last month, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., secured North Dakota's primacy over Class VI injection wells from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It means the state can now approve projects for plants to capture and store CO2 underground.
"We're the first state in the country that has regulatory primacy when it comes to capturing CO2 and actually sequestering it," Hoeven said at discussion at Red Trail Energy Friday. "So there's a lot of talk about it, we're doing it. That's the difference."
There is a federally-funded pilot program in Indiana to capture and store carbon, but Red Trail Energy would be the first to do it on its own, Hoeven said. Once they find a way to make the practice economically feasible, then it may be more broadly adopted, he said, adding technology is the solution to good environmental stewardship.
Red Trail Energy sells most of its ethanol to the West Coast, where some states, especially California, are working to reduce their carbon footprint. If Red Trail Energy is able to store some of its carbon underground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, it would reduce the plant's carbon footprint and make it more competitive in the energy market.
"Not only are we taking ethanol, but we're also enhancing that there ethanol to get into the fuel market, which is good for everybody from an environmental standpoint," said Gerald Bachmeier, CEO of Red Trail Energy. "... There's a lot of work to do and a lot of pieces of the puzzle to put together, but the Class VI primacy was critical to even get the project to move forward."
Red Trail Energy sits near the center of the Broom Creek Formation, a geological formation conducive to storing carbon underground, said Charles Gorecki, director of subsurface research and development at the Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) in Grand Forks. The formation could store between 10 billion and 40 billion tons of captured CO2, he said. Bachmeier said the plant will produce about 4 million tons over a 20-year span and about 20 million tons over 100 years, "a drop in the bucket" of the storage space in the formation, based on current information.
Gorecki said the EERC, North Dakota's Renewable Energy Council and the U.S. Department of Energy all worked together to determine whether the formation could serve as a storage site, and whether the endeavor is economically feasible. They found positive results on both fronts.
"We believe that this really helps North Dakota and Red Trail have a competitive advantage in energy markets," he said.
Red Trail Energy would also have to pay into a trust fund, essentially "the Legacy Fund for the environment" to ensure there is money available in the future in case something goes wrong, said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. Even if the company discontinues the practice, it will still be responsible for the storage site for the following 10 years before the state would take over.
There is now a 60-day window for public comment before the primacy to oversee the capture and storage of CO2 will be passed from the federal government to North Dakota, Hoeven said. If Red Trail Energy gets this approval, then it will continue discovery work before actually drilling the well, Bachmeier said. From there, the company will look at implementation in the year 2020, he said.
"I'm just proud of the fact that out here in western North Dakota, in Stark County, that we're leading the nation in instituting some new technology," Wardner said.