Biofuels, Carbon Capture and Storage

Carbon Pipelines Seek Iowa Permits as Protestors Disrupt Industry Conference

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A protester is escorted out of a carbon capture conference Tuesday in Des Moines. Representatives from three carbon pipeline projects tied to Iowa ethanol plants were highlighting the ability to lower the carbon-intensity score of ethanol plants. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

DES MOINES (DTN) -- Protestors opposed to carbon pipeline projects in Iowa disrupted the opening of a two-day Carbon Capture Conference and Expo.

At least seven people stood up at separate times during an early panel discussion Tuesday, blowing whistles and cursing representatives from carbon pipeline and associated industries in attendance at the event.

"Carbon Capture pipelines are not safe!" yelled one protestor as he was being escorted out. "They will kill us and kill our environment!"

Companies representing the three major pipeline projects in Iowa tried to push through with their focus on the ways carbon capture and sequestration could benefit the fuels industry.

"It's an emotional issue we have to deal with all of the time," said Jim Pirolli, chief commercial officer for Summit Carbon Solutions.

Pirolli added protesters are a "loud minority voice," and most of the opposition letters written to the Iowa Utilities Board over Summit's permit docket are not from landowners.

"Almost every single detractor and opposition letter that's been filed against our docket are people that are not on the pipeline," Pirolli said.

Summit issued a news release Tuesday stating the company has secured easement agreements with more than 50% of landowners "across its entire project footprint" of a pipeline that would run roughly 1,030 miles, linking more than 30 ethanol plants across Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and sinking the carbon into the ground in North Dakota. Summit also stated the company has distributed more than $200 million in easement payments to farmers.

Summit is now waiting for the Iowa Utilities Board to schedule a hearing on its permit application in that state. Navigator CO2, Summit's main competition for signing up ethanol plants, in October filed with Iowa officials for permits in the state. Both pipelines will be asking for authority to use eminent domain for landowners who do not agree to sign an easement.

Navigator is signing up a few ethanol plants in Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota, while crossing Iowa into Illinois where Navigator's planners will sink their carbon. Navigator has more than 30 ethanol plants and other agricultural industrial facilities signed up.

A third company, Wolf Carbon Solutions, is proposing a third pipeline that would also run from an ADM facility in eastern Iowa to sink carbon in Illinois.

Traci Rodosta, a carbon storage validation program manager for the Department of Energy, noted the various DOE loan and grant projects, including a loan program of up to $40 billion available for "large-capacity, common-carrier CO2 transportation."

Rodosta noted, "DOE's mission is research, development and deployment. We are not regulators."

DOE has been validating carbon storage projects and funding those projects since at least 2009 but studying carbon storage projects for decades. Rodosta said carbon storage is an emerging industry, but "mass deployment" will be needed to decarbonize industries. "We are now at the point we're developing commercial-scale projects and associated infrastructure that is needed now to meet our decarbonization goals, and there will be learning as we move forward with this mass deployment."

It will take an "all-inclusive energy system" to meet goals of reducing U.S. emissions 50% by 2030, an emission-free power sector by 2035, and net-zero emissions by 2050, Rodosta said.

By 2025, DOE expects to be able to verify 250 million metric tons (mmt) of commercial storage capacity and 5 mmt of injection. By 2035, the industry needs to be at about 2 billion metric tons of commercial capacity and 65 mmt of carbon injection a year, Rodosta said.

"This is a significant increase from where we are today," she said. "And this is the reason we need to focus on moving up the deployment of storage infrastructure."

Carbon capture, shipping and storage gained more incentives to move ahead with a boost in the tax credit known as 45Q in the Inflation Reduction Act passed in early August. The bill increases the 45Q storage tax credits from $50 a metric ton to $85 a mt for industry and power.

Rodosta said the increased tax credit will help spur more projects and decrease the financial risks for those projects as well.

Spencer Schecht, senior climate engagement lead for the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, a group of industries that would benefit from carbon capture and storage (CCS) and want to accelerate global deployment of those projects, said the institute is "committed to a net-zero future."

Schecht noted the need for public investment to spur more private financing for CCS projects to get to commercial scale. Government funding, along with private financiers and moves to leverage carbon markets are all converging to spur new CCS projects.

"Lots of money is flowing into the space, as we've recently heard," Schecht said.

Globally, there are 30 commercial CCS projects capturing on average 40 mmt of CO2 per year. There are 11 projects under construction, but another 153 CCS projects are in some phase of development globally. This year, another 61 CCS projects were announced globally as well. There are more than 20 countries with CCS projects under development.

If all those projects under development were online, Schecht said they would collectively capture another 244 mmt of carbon per year.

The U.S. has 13 facilities capturing carbon, another 13 projects under construction and at least 70 projects in the development phase.

Schecht said carbon capture and storage projects are driven by demand for emission reductions; pursuit of lowest-cost pathways to reduce emissions; and unabated demand for fertilizer, energy and construction materials.

Chris Bliley, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for Growth Energy, said 25% of ethanol plants are capturing carbon today. He pointed to the carbon markets on the West Coast pushing down the carbon intensity of biofuel producers. Carbon sequestration represents an opportunity for ethanol plants to reduce the carbon intensity.

"Our plants are looking to reduce their carbon intensity," Bliley said.

"Our plants, our biofuel producers have always been on the cutting edge of providing low-carbon fuels," Bliley said.

Bliley also added the potential for lower-carbon biofuels would spur the aviation market, dubbed "sustainable aviation fuel," which could be a 25-billion-gallon market.

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of government and public affairs for Navigator, noted the number of biofuel and industrial facilities adopting capture technology and working on pledges to meet net-zero emission goals. Permitting for projects "should be thorough, but not impossible," she said.

Burns-Thompson said there are different levers of regulatory oversight from counties and agencies in each state. And each state has different rules on how permits and public hearings are conducted.

"I don't think it should be easy, necessarily, to get permits, and I say permits because it's not just one permit. There is no one single entity that we go to that allows these projects to move through," Burns-Thompson said. "It's a lot of oversight from a lot of different entities. I think there is a misconception around that.

As Burns-Thompson and others from Summit and Wolf were speaking, they were repeatedly interrupted by protestors in the crowd.

"As you've seen, this is an emotional issue as well," she said.

The summit and expo continued Wednesday.

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Chris Clayton