ADM to Pump Ethanol Plant's CO2 Under Illinois


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. (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

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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.