carbon capture

This is the equipment used to do 3D seismic survey of eight square miles around the Red Trail Energy ethanol plant in Richardton. 

Red Trail Energy is among the latest North Dakota recipients of carbon capture funding, but this time the money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

The loan is for $25 million and will be used to build a carbon capture processing and storage facility an existing ethanol manufacturing facility in Richardton, North Dakota. The cost of the project is an estimated $30 million.

The plant produces around 180,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The carbon sequestration project would inject the greenhouse gas into the Broom Creek rock formation, 6,300 feet below the surface of the earth.

Red Trail CEO Gerald Bachmeier told state regulators during a recent public hearing that he was looking for ways to differentiate his company amid a supply glut of ethanol.

He settled on removing carbon intensity from the product as a way to achieve premium rates in markets like California. Federal tax credits are also helping the project along.

Red Trail began collaborating with the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota on the particulars of geologic storage for its carbon dioxide in 2016. A geophysical survey in March 2019 confirmed promising geology under the plant in Richardton. Rock samples, fluids and other geologic data were then analyzed as well.

Red Trail submitted an application for a carbon storage permit in February of this year, which included research results from the EERC’s work, as well as monitoring the company will do to ensure the greenhouse gas stays put and doesn’t enter drinking water supplies. North Dakota is one of only two states granted permitting authority from the Environmental Protection Agency for such projects.

EERC has been researching carbon storage for the past decade or so, and has worked with other companies on carbon capture and storage, including Denbury Resources, which is lately building a resources pipeline to bring carbon dioxide to oilfields along the Montana-North Dakota border.

EERC’s research not only looked at best practices for geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide, but also monitored carbon dioxide injections, to prove it will stay where it is put and is not leaking back out into the atmosphere or ground water supplies.

Successful geologic storage requires a deep porous layer to hold carbon dioxide with overlying impermeable rock layers to seal the carbon dioxide in and keep it in place.

Red Trail has been producing corn-based ethanol and distillers grains since 2007. It’s an alternative market for farmers in 32 counties in the Stark County region, buying up 23 million bushels of corn annually.

The plant employs around 45 people and generates more than $149 million in gross sales. In addition to the 64 million gallons of ethanol produced but the plant, there are also 230,000 tons of coproduces, some of which support up to 220,000 head of cattle.

Red Trail’s project is one of several in the state looking to either capture carbon dioxide, or, as in the case of the Synfuels Plant near Beulah, to capture more carbon, in the wake of a more attractive 45Q tax credit for such projects.

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