New Facility Captures Atmospheric Carbon and Stores it Underground

On April 7, the illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage commenced operations, taking carbon that corn sequestered from the atmosphere and storing it safely almost a mile and a half underground in a sandstone formation.
April 17, 2017, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Heretofore, carbon capture and storage (CCS) mostly referred to capturing carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, e.g., "clean coal" (see Petra Nova below), or other industrial facilities, and often using the carbon dioxide to extract hard to recover oil, a process known as enhanced oil recovery.

The Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage (ICCS) project, located in Decatur, Ill, takes CCS to an entirely different level. Rather than working as part of a coal-burning power plant, CCS is applied to a corn processing facility. Ethanol, used as a gasoline substitute or oxygenate, appears to be just of the many products the plant produces.   

Instead of operating on fossil fuels (though ironically, it's administered by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy), the plant uses anaerobic fermentation to extract the carbon absorbed from the atmosphere by the cornand rather than using it to recover hard-to-get oil, the carbon dioxide emissions are sequestered in the Mount Simon Sandstone at a depth of approximately 2,100 metres / 7,000 feet below ground level, according to a thorough description by the Melbourne-based Global CCS Institute.

The technical name for applying CCS on biofuels is “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage,” or BECCS, writes Chris Mooney on the opening of the Decatur facility. The process should not be confused with carbon engineering that directly takes carbon from the atmosphere and sequesters it.

Computer models that seek to chart our planet’s energy and climate future have leaned heavily on BECCS as a way to power future transportation and electricity systems while nonetheless keeping the planet’s warming below the dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius.

“This is the first large scale project in the world on biofuels, and it takes us down the road towards negative emissions, which is the exciting part,” said Jeff Erikson, director of the Global CCS Institute

ICCS is operated by the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Company and managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) under agreement with ADM, the University of Illinois through the Illinois State Geological Survey, Schlumberger Carbon Services, and Richland Community College.

Not one but two projects, both funded by U.S. Department of Energy

ICCS follows the earlier Illinois Basin Decatur Project (IBDPled by the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium at the University of Illinois, funded largely by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2007. Carbon injection operations into the Mount Simon Sandstone begin in November 2011 and cease three years later. In January 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy announces the IBDP had successfully captured and stored approximately one million tonnes of CO2, according to the Global CCS Institute's timeline on ICCS.

ICCS receives its first DOE funding in June 2010, begins construction in August 2011, and opens on April 7.

Petra Nova plant ribbon-cutting

The plant's opening was overshadowed a week later by the ribbon-cutting, with U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry participating, marking the opening of the Petra Nova project, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project, at a coal-burning power plant at the W. A. Parish Electric Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas. The project, which commenced operations in January, showcases clean coal technology utilizing enhanced oil recovery.

While the Illinois and Texas plants utilize different applications of both capturing and storing carbon, they share what may be the biggest challenge facing all CCS operations: Without a price on carbon, these operations may not be economically viable. "Not every coal power plant sits near an old oil field," remarks Mooney in his piece on the Petra Nova project ribbon-cutting on April 13.

Hat tip to Loren Spiekerman.
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Published on Monday, April 10, 2017 in The Washington Post
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