ADM to Pump Ethanol Plant's CO2 Under Illinois

  • Published on December 21st, 2007 by
 

CoalPlantPan

What if I told you the Federal Government would be paying to experimentally inject 1 million tons of carbon dioxide into the ground under Illinois? And what if I said the CO2 would by supplied by an ethanol plant owned and operated by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM)?

You’d say I was crazy, right?

On Tuesday, the Department of Energy awarded $66.7 million to investigate large-scale carbon sequestration programs in Illinois. The money was awarded to the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium, one of seven regional carbon sequestration partnerships funded by the DOE and consisting of private businesses, state entities, and local universities in the Illionois-Kentucky-Indiana geographic region. This is all part of the DOE’s 10-year initiative to establish and commercialize carbon sequestration.





The MGSC plans on injecting 1000 tons of CO2 into the earth’s crust per day every day for three years, at a depth of about 5,500 feet. Geologists working on the project estimate that the Mt. Simon Sandstone Formation in Illinois can hold up to 100 years of carbon dioxide emissions from major point sources in the region, keeping it sequestered for millennia.

The partnership will inject one million tons of CO2 into one of the thickest portions of the Mount Simon Formation testing how the heterogeneity of the formation can increase the effectiveness of storage and demonstrate that the massive seals can contain the CO2 for millennia. The results of this project will provide the foundation for the future development of CO2 capture and storage opportunities in the region.

The most striking part of this arrangement is that the CO2 source is an ethanol plant in Decatur, IL, operated by none other than ADM. News sources don’t clarify the type or production volume of ADM’s ethanol facility, but this information raises serious concerns about ethanol’s pollution profile (see an earlier post for the latest on ethanol).

Call me a Luddite, but carbon sequestration seems closely related to other ill-conceived strategies for mitigating global-warming, including coal-powered jets, launching giant reflective discs into space, or seeding the ocean with iron to increase phytoplankton CO2 uptake. Will ‘sequestered’ carbon dioxide stay underground, or will it find a vent and leak slowly (or dramatically) back into the atmosphere? (For an excellent bibliography on this topic, see MIT’s research on Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies.) We’re certainly adept at pulling things out of the ground, but injecting a gas into the Earth’s surface is a whole new ballgame.

It looks like we don’t get much of a choice, however. According to the Government:

Advancing carbon sequestration is a key component of the Bush Administration’s comprehensive efforts to pursue clean coal technology to meet current and future energy needs and meet President Bush’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity 18 percent by 2012.

Let’s just pretend this isn’t really happening.

Energy.gov (Dec. 18, 2007): Energy Department Awards $66.7 Million for Large-Scale Carbon Sequestration Project

GreenCarCongress (Dec. 19, 2007): DOE Awards $66.7 Million for Large-Scale Carbon Sequestration Project; Ethanol Plant the CO2 Source

Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium

Photo Credit





About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.

  • Maarika

    This makes me so angry that I could just explode. I don’t know how familiar you are with ADM or other agribusiness giants, but here’s a rough sketch of how I see this situation:

    -Back in WWII, the government subsidized the growing of corn. Okay, that’s fine. We needed more food.

    -After WWII, the subsidies didn’t stop. Agribusinesses such as ADM, ConAgra, and Monsanto began to gain power and have been lobbying the government for decades to keep the subsidies coming.

    -Small farms get bought up by agribusinesse and agribusinesses grow the crops they know will get subsidized. On a VAST SCALE.

    -Inevitably, there is a surplus of corn. What to do with it? Spend millions of dollars on research to convert this extra corn into something else – e.g. high fructose corn syrup and, most recently, ethanol.

    -Corn is NOT the most efficient ethanol crop. By any means.

    -Ethanol production from corn *creates* more pollution than its use will mitigate!

    -The passage of the ethanol bill and the carbon sequestration funding indicate that the government is continuing its diseased partnership with agribusinesses.

    … Sorry for the rant.

    Happy Holidays.

  • Maarika

    This makes me so angry that I could just explode. I don’t know how familiar you are with ADM or other agribusiness giants, but here’s a rough sketch of how I see this situation:

    -Back in WWII, the government subsidized the growing of corn. Okay, that’s fine. We needed more food.

    -After WWII, the subsidies didn’t stop. Agribusinesses such as ADM, ConAgra, and Monsanto began to gain power and have been lobbying the government for decades to keep the subsidies coming.

    -Small farms get bought up by agribusinesse and agribusinesses grow the crops they know will get subsidized. On a VAST SCALE.

    -Inevitably, there is a surplus of corn. What to do with it? Spend millions of dollars on research to convert this extra corn into something else – e.g. high fructose corn syrup and, most recently, ethanol.

    -Corn is NOT the most efficient ethanol crop. By any means.

    -Ethanol production from corn *creates* more pollution than its use will mitigate!

    -The passage of the ethanol bill and the carbon sequestration funding indicate that the government is continuing its diseased partnership with agribusinesses.

    … Sorry for the rant.

    Happy Holidays.

  • Rachel

    Clayton, I’d be interested to hear your take sometime on the other carbon sequestration strategies you mentioned in passing — particularly ocean seeding. I have a similar sense that all such plans are ill-conceived, but was unable to successfully answer recently why I’m so quick to dismiss these possibilities if I really believe in the imminence of catastrophic climate change.

  • Rachel

    Clayton, I’d be interested to hear your take sometime on the other carbon sequestration strategies you mentioned in passing — particularly ocean seeding. I have a similar sense that all such plans are ill-conceived, but was unable to successfully answer recently why I’m so quick to dismiss these possibilities if I really believe in the imminence of catastrophic climate change.

  • dad

    See my previous response. I successfully found answer to other question

  • dad

    See my previous response. I successfully found answer to other question

  • Rachel, thanks for the comment.

    I’ll have to find my notes on the ocean-seeding hypothesis. I had the chance to attend a discussion earlier this year on the ongoing experiment to dump vast quantities of iron into the ocean. As it turns out, iron is the crucial limiting nutrient for phytoplankton. Add iron and you get dramatic increases in photosynthesis that amounts to sucking carbon dioxide out of the air. The thought is that this carbon dioxide will be sequestered deeply in the ocean (and this is where my memory gets hazy). Somehow the CO2 won’t make it back into the atmosphere, at least for a long time. The scientist involved in the discussion couldn’t answer the big question, which is what happens to oceanic ecosystems when you modify nutrient availability on this kind of scale.

    I guess I would answer your question with an analogy: imagine you’re in a bathtub and you can’t turn the faucet off. You could come up with all kinds of ways to get rid of the water, like scooping it out, trying to evaporate it with a portable heater, drinking it, etc, but all with consequence that aren’t always clear from the outset (ie floor of the bathroom gets wet, you get sick from drinking bathwater, etc). If the problem is really so important, why not slow the faucet. All the ‘solutions’ to keep the bathtub from overflowing are useless without doing this, anyway.

    But that’s just my thinking. Any additional input on this would be appreciated…

  • Rachel, thanks for the comment.

    I’ll have to find my notes on the ocean-seeding hypothesis. I had the chance to attend a discussion earlier this year on the ongoing experiment to dump vast quantities of iron into the ocean. As it turns out, iron is the crucial limiting nutrient for phytoplankton. Add iron and you get dramatic increases in photosynthesis that amounts to sucking carbon dioxide out of the air. The thought is that this carbon dioxide will be sequestered deeply in the ocean (and this is where my memory gets hazy). Somehow the CO2 won’t make it back into the atmosphere, at least for a long time. The scientist involved in the discussion couldn’t answer the big question, which is what happens to oceanic ecosystems when you modify nutrient availability on this kind of scale.

    I guess I would answer your question with an analogy: imagine you’re in a bathtub and you can’t turn the faucet off. You could come up with all kinds of ways to get rid of the water, like scooping it out, trying to evaporate it with a portable heater, drinking it, etc, but all with consequence that aren’t always clear from the outset (ie floor of the bathroom gets wet, you get sick from drinking bathwater, etc). If the problem is really so important, why not slow the faucet. All the ‘solutions’ to keep the bathtub from overflowing are useless without doing this, anyway.

    But that’s just my thinking. Any additional input on this would be appreciated…

  • Rachel, thanks for the comment.

    I’ll have to find my notes on the ocean-seeding hypothesis. I had the chance to attend a discussion earlier this year on the ongoing experiment to dump vast quantities of iron into the ocean. As it turns out, iron is the crucial limiting nutrient for phytoplankton. Add iron and you get dramatic increases in photosynthesis that amounts to sucking carbon dioxide out of the air. The thought is that this carbon dioxide will be sequestered deeply in the ocean (and this is where my memory gets hazy). Somehow the CO2 won’t make it back into the atmosphere, at least for a long time. The scientist involved in the discussion couldn’t answer the big question, which is what happens to oceanic ecosystems when you modify nutrient availability on this kind of scale.

    I guess I would answer your question with an analogy: imagine you’re in a bathtub and you can’t turn the faucet off. You could come up with all kinds of ways to get rid of the water, like scooping it out, trying to evaporate it with a portable heater, drinking it, etc, but all with consequence that aren’t always clear from the outset (ie floor of the bathroom gets wet, you get sick from drinking bathwater, etc). If the problem is really so important, why not slow the faucet. All the ‘solutions’ to keep the bathtub from overflowing are useless without doing this, anyway.

    But that’s just my thinking. Any additional input on this would be appreciated…

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  • I’d say it does’nt matter, because if any of it escaped into the atmosphere, it would decipate less than 500 feet above the EARTH”S surface, like all non-solids do normally. That’s why the E.P.A. COULD’NT PROVE TO CONGRESS LAST YEAR, THAT ALL NON-SOLIDS HARM THE OZONE, BECAUSE NATURE WONT ALLOW THE OZONE TO BE PENETRATED BY ANYTHING NON-SOLIDS FROM EARTH, LIKE THE REMNANTS OF THE ATOM BOMB OR THE HYDROGEN BOMB EXPERIMENTS. ITS SIMPLE LOGIC. HAVENT YOU SEEN A FOREST FIRE, IF THE SMOKE WENT TO THE OZONE, THEN HOW COULD HELICOPTERS SEE TO PUT THE FIRE OUT AT 180 FEET. HAVE A NICE DAY. MIKE