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The Quest to Capture and Store Carbon – and Slow Climate Change — Just Reached a New Milestone
by Chris Mooney (The Washington Post) A new large-scale technology has launched
in Decatur, Illinois that, by combining together corn-based fuels with the burial of carbon dioxide deep underground, could potentially result in the active removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
It’s an objective described as crucial by scientists hoping to control the planet’s warming.
The facility operated by ethanol giant Archer Daniels Midland, dubbed the Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture Project, arrives at a time of uncertainty for the U.S. and global biofuels industry.
Some critics have also questioned the technology — dubbed “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage,” or BECCS
— that marries together plants that pull carbon from the air as they grow, and industrial applications that process or consume those plants to generate energy, but also capture some of the resulting carbon and stow it within the Earth.
The ADM plant could still be quite significant from a global climate perspective. 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.
The Decatur project is expected to store 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year for five years in sandstone layers a mile and a half underground, for a total storage of over 5 million tons. According to materials provided by ADM, the geological formation involved, the Mt. Simon Sandstone, has “the capacity to store billions of tons of CO2.”
The current ADM project builds on a prior, smaller scale project in Illinois that over three years stored about a million tons of CO2, and tested the sustainability of the geological sequestration of carbon dioxide in sandstone, says Sallie Greenberg, a researcher with the Illinois State Geological Survey who has collaborated on both projects.
At the Decatur plant, carbon dioxide is stripped out of the fermentation process in which corn is converted to ethanol — which yields an almost perfectly pure stream of carbon dioxide gas. That gas is then converted to “supercritical,” fluid form and piped underground. READ MORE