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Red Trail Energy celebrates month of carbon capture and storage operations in Richardton

Leaders at Red Trail Energy, an ethanol processing plant in Richardton, N.D., showcased their new carbon capture operation facility. With very few other carbon capture operations in America, this newest climate-conscious operation sets southwestern North Dakota on the leading edge of carbon sequestration technology.

Red Trail Energy
The Red Trail Energy ethanol processing plant in Richardton, North Dakota, is pictured.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press
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RICHARDTON, N.D. — In southwest North Dakota, roughly 724 people call the town of Richardton home. One of its newest residents is an ethanol facility's carbon capture center that has become the first such capture and storage project approved, under state primacy, in the United States.

An open house hosted by Red Trail Energy, an ethanol processing company that’s been producing since 2007, at their Richardton plant on Wednesday highlighted the facility's sequestering of 19,335 metric tons of climate-warming carbon emissions since launching its carbon capture operations in mid-June.

Gerald Bachmeier, CEO of Red Trail Energy, during the tour said he projects the facility will capture approximately 180,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. According to Bachmeier, tests have shown that the small southwest North Dakota community is a prime location for carbon sequestration.

“When we did our step rate test, we ran eight times the amount that we'd be injecting. It was phenomenal. It didn't even pressure up or anything. So we're very pleased with the results of that,” he said. “Sometimes it's good to be lucky. If you threw a dart on a map and were looking for a place to do carbon sequestration, you couldn't find a better place.”

In ethanol production, Bachmeier said facilities will receive and break down a corn bushels into one third clean ethanol, one third carbon and one third distilled grain and corn oil.

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“What we're doing is we're taking a third of the CO2 that was vented to the atmosphere under our air permit, capturing that as it comes off as a vapor, condensing it into a liquid and then putting it into the formation 6,400 the feet below the surface. It’s stored in a saline formation called the Broom Creek Formation,” he explained.

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The carbon sequestration process begins in these stainless steel fermentation tanks.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

Bachmeier noted that the process reduces carbon intensity of the ethanol by nearly half, so that the companies purchasing it pay 20 to 30 cents more per gallon, but do so for a better product that is environmentally conscious.

Engaging in the process of carbon capturing, Red Trail benefits from a 45Q federal tax credit rewarding the company with $20 per metric ton of carbon dioxide permanently stored.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring complimented Red Trail for their innovation and creativity in supporting the state.

“As an investor in Red Trail, I've had the opportunity to watch you guys start with a little groundbreaking, all the way to the beautiful facility out here,” Goehring said. “We thought about trying to save our coal plants. Carbon sequestration is going to be a part of that.”

In a video message to attendees, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven offered his congratulatory support for Red Trail Energy and everyone involved in the project.

“Over more than a 15 year time-span, we've worked to get carbon capture and sequestration. We're the first state in the country to be able to permit a plant like this,” Hoeven said. “This is incredibly exciting. It's a testament to your foresight on the hard work you've done; and a great example of marrying up agriculture and energy here in North Dakota — something that I think we're leading this country in doing.”

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Hoeven
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Dickinson Press file photo

According to Bachmeier, target markets for the selling of ethanol remains along the United States' western coastline states where states like California have enacted policies that favor fuels produced through low carbon intensity.

Bachmeier was happy to confirm that his company produces about 65 million gallons of ethanol annually, and do so by grinding 23 million bushels of corn with more than 95% coming from North Dakota farmers.

Ethanol processing
Red Trail Plant Manager Kent Blasser explained that these large grain bins are where the processing sequence begins. Corn starch is broken down into a sugar and fermented before yeast is added. "The yeast feed on that sugar, then digests ethanol and CO2," Blasser said.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press
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Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in rural southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge.
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