Capturing Carbon, Market Opportunities and Moments

By Tom Bryan, Ethanol Producer Magazine | June 09, 2022

The first thing the carbon capture folks will tell you about ethanol plant CO2 is that it’s clean and easy to compress, move and store. On its face, that sounds odd. After all, we’re talking about the purity of a product that’s about to be sequestered underground for eternity. But it’s true. Ethanol plant CO2 is ultra high quality—free of impurities—unlike other industrial sources. As told in “The Ethanol Industry’s Commercial Capture,” what makes ethanol plant CO2 perfect for sequestration has, for years, also made it ideal for merchant capture. And while more than 50 U.S. ethanol plants are now readying for CCS, an equal number of them already capture CO2 for myriad commercial and industrial uses. And a lot of merchant CO2 producers are now asking what, if any, compensation, credit or financial bump they should receive for continuing to supply a vital U.S. product while other producers tee up attractive CCS tax credits.

Indeed, most of the recent media attention on biofuel CCS has been focused on pipelines—and rightly so, it’s exciting—but stand-alone CCS projects may be positioned for earlier success simply because they don’t have to deal with the thorny challenge of pipeline development (i.e., landowner hesitancy). In “Sequestering In Place,” we report on how a handful of U.S. ethanol producers are planning to explore, or have already studied, the feasibility of capturing and storing CO2 onsite, or very close to the confines of their operation. For those with the right geology under foot, it’s an attractive proposition. 

One of the 50-plus ethanol plants exploring CCS right now is Homeland Energy Solutions LLC, which recently hit its two-billionth-gallon milestone, a production mark that gives context to the plant’s 13 years of operation, expansion and change. As we share with our readers in “Landmark Moment,” the northeastern Iowa biorefinery is currently operating at nearly 200 MMgy, but started out half that size in 2009. The company’s current CEO, Telly Papasimakis, attributes the plant’s success to a culture of “principled entrepreneurship” and a management style that encourages a “discovery mentality.” Jumping into carbon capture requires a little of both things, and CCS is part of Homeland’s three-pronged strategy for future success: branching into new products, operating the plant at peak utility and reducing the carbon intensity of the biofuel it makes. Homeland’s journey to 3 billion gallons will be fascinating to watch, and we will. 

Also, before you put this issue down, page back to “In Pursuit of Pure,” a timely story about San Diego-based Pearson Fuels’ quest to provide its wholesale customers with E85 made almost entirely of two biobased inputs: ethanol and renewable naphtha, a byproduct of renewable diesel production. E85 sales are booming in California—its $2 a gallon cheaper than regular unleaded right now—and the demand for this novel all-bio product is strong. But getting renewable naphtha with the right specs approved and supplied at scale will take time, deal making and technical savvy.
Enjoy the read.

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor, BBI International