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  • Opinion: Carbon Dioxide pipelines essential to climate goals and America's farm economy

  • Opinion: Carbon Dioxide pipelines essential to climate goals and America's farm economy

    Opinion: Carbon Dioxide pipelines essential to climate goals and America's farm economy

    Most car and truck drivers know – from signs posted prominently on gas station pumps – that ethanol is blended with gasoline to produce the fuel that powers their vehicles. Fewer people may know that ethanol, refined from corn, uses more than half of America’s corn crop to produce over 15 billion gallons annually, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
    Ethanol reduces our dependency on fossil fuels, enhancing our energy independence and security. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, emitting substantially less carbon dioxide (CO2) than gasoline when burned in engines. But equally important, it underpins America’s farm economy, raising crop and farmland values and farm incomes.
    Robust agriculture driven by ethanol and other biofuels supports the regional economies of rural America, including businesses supplying equipment, fertilizers, farm supplies and services to corn growers. This economic activity is in turn the lifeblood of all kinds of local businesses, public education, health and safety, and of general prosperity in rural communities. So it’s not an overstatement to say that the continuing prosperity of rural America and the towns and cities it surrounds, and that rely on and support its agriculture, are tied to the future of ethanol.
    While already a low-carbon fuel, ethanol can become an even lower and soon even a net-zero carbon fuel. How? The process of refining ethanol from corn emits a nearly pure stream of CO2. If that CO2 is captured and then transported to deep underground permanent storage, tens of millions of tons annually would be eliminated from America’s carbon emissions. The key is being able to move that CO2 from corn-growing areas in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota, where ethanol is produced, to regions where underground geology is ideal for permanent storage. The closest geologic formations where CO2 can be pumped underground in large quantities are in North Dakota and Illinois.
    CO2 is naturally a gas, but when captured and compressed it becomes a condensed fluid that can be safely pumped through underground pipelines. Realizing the environmental benefits of capturing and storing CO2 requires building a capillary network of pipelines connecting over fifty ethanol refineries operating in our Corn Belt via long-distance trunk lines that terminate in the underground storage areas.
    There are several such systems now under development that do just that, sponsored by Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions. Their developers have made major investments to engineer their systems, do the environmental assessments to minimize impacts along their routes, negotiate easements with and compensate landowners, and work with local and state governments to obtain permits to begin construction. Their projects will create tens of thousands of well-paying construction jobs, spend billions on construction, equipment, materials and supplies, and result in millions going to local governments from property and other taxes when the systems are in operation.
    What should be a smooth process is being complicated by opponents whose real agenda is to eliminate ethanol from America’s energy portfolio and ultimately, end all use of internal combustion engines. Availability of low-to-net-zero ethanol threatens their goals. But imagine the futures of our agriculture-driven economies, not to mention farmers themselves, in a world with no ethanol and demand for half the area’s corn crop gone. 
    Largely funded by undisclosed donors, a small but vocal minority has organized and are set on stopping these projects from being built. In some cases, they have gained the ears of a few state and local regulators convincing them to throw roadblocks against what should be a predictable, methodical permit approval process gathering and considering input from all stakeholders. Apparently, they either do not appreciate or do not care about the economic damage and suffering their policies would cause. An equal mystery is why they would want to stop development of projects that would prevent over 20 million tons per year of CO2 from entering our atmosphere – more carbon removal by far than any other system now in existence.
    Opponents continue their crusade against carbon capture and storage generally and these projects specifically. The business community generally, and especially stakeholders in the buoyancy of affected rural area economies, it is essential that we stand up and speak out in support of carbon capture generally and these ethanol-based projects specifically. 

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