An Archer Daniels Midland corn ethanol plant in Decatur, Illinois is being celebrated as the latest in a series of carbon capture and storage (CCS) installations that are sequestering CO2 from industrial processes other than coal generation.
“While the current focus of the [U.S.] media and policy-makers is on CCS applied to coal-fired power plants, CCS on industrial facilities has been successfully practiced for more than 40 years,” writes Jeff Erikson of the Global CCS Institute. The ADM facility is the 17th in a series of installations that collectively capture about 35 million tonnes of CO2 per year, mostly “from industrial processes, such as natural gas processing, hydrogen production, fertilizer production, synthetic natural gas production, and most recently, steel and ethanol production.”
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Erikson credits the Decatur plant with paving the way for net negative emissions, by capturing carbon emissions from biofuel production. Critics refer to biomass-CCS (BECCS) schemes as “science fiction”, with risks of forest degradation and land use changes that would more than offset any carbon benefits.
Erikson points to the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line as an upcoming project that will capture CO2 from multiple industrial facilities and transport it to depleted oil fields for use in enhanced oil recovery. But a Pembina Institute analysis indicates that a similar facility, Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam CCS project, enables plant owner SaskPower to “reduce its own emissions, but helps Cenovus pump crude that would have otherwise been inaccessible. That crude is refined and burned, sending CO2 into our atmosphere. The net result? For every tonne of CO2 scrubbed out of emissions, at least a tonne enters the atmosphere when that oil is refined and burned.”
Erikson asserts that CCS technology is at a crossroads: it is widely recognized as an essential climate solution, but “not inevitable due to a lack of adequate government policy support in many countries, divided public sentiment, and challenging project economics.” In an odd twist, considering decades of disproportionate public subsidies to fossil technologies, he argues for CCS to be funded on a par with renewable energy, stressing that “a critical role of governments is to foster research and development to accelerate technology advances and drive down costs.”