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Business & Economics

POET signs on to carbon capture pipeline plan

ethanol
Joshua Haiar
/
SDPB

South Dakota-based biofuel company POET plans to connect its ethanol plants to the proposed Heartland Greenway carbon-capture pipeline.

POET recently announced a statement of intent to connect 18 of its facilities with the project, which is backed by Texas company Navigator CO2 Ventures. It is one of two proposed carbon-capture pipelines in South Dakota — the other endeavor, the Midwest Carbon Express, faced pushback from rural South Dakotans earlier this year.

Carbon capture techniques liquify carbon dioxide emissions at key pollution points, including oil refineries, factories and ethanol plants. The resulting product is often sold for commercial applications. Most often, the liquified CO2 is used for oil drilling. Otherwise, it’s permanently sequestered underground through specialized wells.

The Heartland Greenway and Midwest Carbon Express pipelines seek to transport CO2 to Illinois and North Dakota, respectively. Those states both have areas with the geological conditions needed for underground sequestration.

By offsetting its carbon emissions, POET can sell its ethanol in states like California, Oregon and Washington, which offer clean fuel incentives. Those states require fuel companies to meet emissions standards, or make up the difference by buying credits from cleaner producers.

The company already sells dry ice and other products made from CO2. But Chris Hill, an employee for Summit Carbon Solutions, says those efforts don't help ethanol producers' standing with clean fuel programs.

“Ultimately, you’re just delaying the release of that CO2 into the atmosphere from a dry ice, or a soda, or in another food or beverage,” Hill told SDPB’s Lori Walsh. “When you inject it into a geological formation for permanent sequestration, it’s not going to get released back into the atmosphere.”

Involved parties will also benefit from a federal tax credit awarding $50 per ton of sequestered CO2. Navigator expects its pipeline to transport 15 million tons annually.

navigator-pipeline-proposed-map
Press Release/Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC
/
Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC
The proposed Heartland Greenway pipeline would extend to ethanol plants in eastern South Dakota

Proponents say carbon pipelines are necessary to slow the greenhouse gases driving climate change. The scale required to shrink carbon footprints makes transportation by rail or road uneconomical, so ethanol producers say pipelines are the only way to offset their carbon footprint. And, according to Hill, outfitting polluters with carbon capture equipment helps prepare industrial facilities for future sequestration technologies.

Most of Navigator’s pipeline would be installed in Iowa. Pressurized tubing would diagonally bisect the state. There, debate over the pipeline echoes the heated fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Some Iowa landowners worry that spills from the pipeline will damage soil and water sources, a worry Navigator says it’s addressed.

“The product in this pipeline is carbon dioxide, it’s not a petroleum product,” said a representative at a public meeting in December. “It does not contaminate your water or soil in that capacity. It is a short term, localized impact.”

Meanwhile, environmental groups are skeptical of carbon capture in general, arguing that it doesn't address the root causes of pollution. The Iowa Sierra Club has characterized carbon capture pipelines as “greenwashing schemes.”

The footprint of Navigator’s Heartland Greenway project is smaller in South Dakota than other states. The company is yet to file for a permit with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, but plans for the pipeline to be operational by 2025. Meanwhile, Summit Carbon Solutions received an extension for its permit application.

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