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Red Trail Energy progressing on carbon capturing project

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Red Trail Energy COO Dustin Willett updated Stark County Commissioners Tuesday on the ethanol producer's carbon capturing and storage project in Richardton. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Red Trail Energy is progressing on its carbon dioxide capturing and storage project.

Dustin Willett, RTE chief operating officer, provided an update to Stark County commissioners at their monthly meeting Tuesday.

RTE has been working with the University of North Dakota's Energy Environmental Resource Center to determine if such a project would be safe and economically feasible at the Richardton-based ethanol storage facility.

The process captures CO2 instead of releasing it into atmosphere. It is then transported to a site for injection deep underground.

The effort would help lower CO2 emissions from ethanol production and allow RTE to better sell its ethanol to states with low-carbon fuel programs, such as California.

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RTE completed an 8-mile geological survey in March to investigate a safe, permanent site in Richardton for the captured CO2.

The survey helped to evaluate rock layers more than a mile below the surface near the RTE facility in Richardton.

"Underneath Richardton, it looks like the Sierra desert," Willett said. "There's actually dunes out there, wavy dunes, so we're trying to figure out where the best spot will be so when we inject the CO2 it stays there and we can get the most CO2 injected underneath Red Trail as we can. That way we have less spreading out into other areas."

RTE worked with landowners to gain access to their property.

"We did run into a little bit of reclaim work that had to be done in the area," Willett said. "All that work's done. All the fields got planted in time for seeding, so all the farmers are happy there."

Two potential areas under Richardton were identified for CO2 storage.

"One is the Inyan Kara, and the other is the Broom Creek (Formation), which we had always planned on injecting into originally," Willett said.

Both are sealed by more than 1,000 feet of cap rock, through which gases and liquid do not flow.

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EERC recommended Broom Creek, Willett said, which has a depth of 6,400 feet and an average thickness of 295 feet.

"It'll be able to hold the most CO2 over a 20-year lifespan," he said. "It's the same formation that Project Tundra, with MinnKota (Power Cooperative), is looking at going."

To determine whether the sites are suited for permanent carbon dioxide storage, RTE next plans to drill test wells to collect rock samples for analysis.

RTE is in the process of finalizing first test hole, which should be drilled this year or at the start of spring 2020.

"We're working towards that," Willett said. "We should know that here shortly."

Commissioners applauded the project and RTE's progress.

"It sounds like your project is moving forward," Chairman Ken Zander said. "We all wish you continued success."

A report on RTE's geological survey and data collection can be found at: www.undeerc.org/redtrailenergy.

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