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Giant pipeline in U.S. Midwest tests future of carbon capture -Breaking


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – An ethanol plant in Windsor Colorado with its huge corn silos near a cornfield on July 7, 2006./File photo


Leah Douglas

(Reuters) – Dan Tronchetti was alarmed by a August letter from Summit Carbon Solutions. The company, which he had never heard of wanted permission to survey his fields for a 2,000-mile pipeline that would run through his Iowa soybean and corn crops.

Project called the Midwest Carbon Express had ambitious goals to be the largest global carbon dioxide pipeline. It would transport climate-warming greenhouse gasses from Midwest biofuels plants into North Dakota, where they will remain underground for storage.

Tronchetti first cared about his livelihood. He said, “It would travel more than half an mile through prime agricultural land.”

According to Reuters interview with six landowners on the route, four opposition community groups and several academics as well as industry sources, the 65 year-old refuses to surrender his property.

Summit could launch legal battles to seize land and claim eminent domain, if Summit fails to resolve the impasse. This led to the cancellation this year of Keystone XL’s oil pipeline.

Summit’s $4.5Billion project is at risk. The same goes for Midwest ethanol producers who would be served by it.

This could also be the most important test for carbon capture and stock (CCS), an industry that has been struggling for many years, but advocates claim could prove to be a valuable tool in global climate mitigation.

The Department of Energy estimates that underground geological formations can store nearly 2.6 trillion tons of CO2 in America, enough to absorb all of America’s historic emissions over the next century.

There are still questions as to whether CCS will ever be able to fulfill these needs. This technology has not been tested despite the billions in public funding over the last decade.

Only 12 US commercial CCS plants are currently in operation. Together, they have a capacity of 19.64 Million Tons of carbon storage annually. This is approximately 0.4% of the country’s total emissions.

Other projects were also considered, but failed to launch or were dropped due to operational or financial issues. One example is the $1 Billion Petra Nova Texas plant.

There are health concerns as well. Numerous people were affected by a 2020 leakage of liquid CO2 in Yazoo County Mississippi.

Jerald Schnoor, a professor at the University of Iowa’s engineering school and former chair of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council, said his “high hopes” for CCS had flagged in recent years after the string of project failures.

However, he said that ethanol plants could theoretically be prime locations for carbon capture as they generate a concentrated stream of CO2.

“If you agree that climate change poses a grave problem (which I do), then this huge opportunity to capture CO2 makes sense,” he said.

Summit stated to Reuters that its pipeline project was safe and would work. The company also promised that it would provide a new stream of revenue for the 31 corn ethanol plants who signed up.

Justin Kirchhoff, president of Summit Ag Investors (the parent company of Summit Carbon Solutions), said that “This project is pretty transformative for ethanol to be competitive in a lower-carbon world.”

Biden Administration is encouraging this technology to help decarbonize U.S. economies by 2050. They have proposed tax credit increases for their use, which is currently under debate in Congress. Summit would be a major beneficiary.


Summit proposed the Midwest Carbon Express for the first time in February. Since then, Summit has worked to approve its route in five of the states that it will travel through.

Iowa is the contentious state where Summit must hold public hearings in almost every county under its law.

The state’s farmers have been outspoken opponents to the project at these meetings, and several – including Tronchetti – are petitioning the Iowa Utilities Board to release the names of other landowners along the route so they can organize.

Summit claims that it is opposed to publishing that list, as per Reuters’ review.

Farmers living in the pipeline’s path are most concerned about the potential damage to their crops after and during installation. The soil may be compacted and disturbed.

Iowa State University released research that showed first-year and second year yields for soybeans and corn in the Dakota Access pipeline right-of-way.

Summit disclosed in a filing to Iowa regulators it intends to compensate farmers in case of potential damage. This will include paying the farmer the total value of any crops that were grown on the area in its first year and decreasing the amount over the two following years.

Summit could seize landowners if they don’t sign voluntary agreements to allow them to build the pipeline. This is what has happened to other oil and gas pipelines.

Despite this risk Tronchetti and BevKutz from Nebraska, a cattle farmer, said to Reuters that Summit surveyors had been refused entry on their land.

Kutz stated that this was a private firm seeking to do something which isn’t best for the public.

The project also faces opposition from some local green groups, like the Iowa chapters of the Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch, who have expressed safety fears and concerns that the project will be used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

EOR is the main method used in CCS. The captured carbon is then used to lift oil field pressure to increase crude production. However, climate activists believe this could undermine the technology’s green goals.

Summit indicated that EOR had not been ruled out, but permanent storage was its main goal.

The company refused to disclose the amount of pipeline route that it secured from landowners but stated it was positive.

Jesse Harris spoke on behalf of the spokesperson. He said, “We are encouraged and looking forward to continuing these conversations with landowners.”


CCS is slow in developing countries. There are just 27 operational commercial CCS facilities globally, according to the Global CCS Institute, with capacity in top emitter China at around 2 million tons a year.

Midwest Carbon Express has the potential to transport 12 million tonnes per year of CO2. This would be more than the Century Plant in Texas which is capable of capturing approximately 8 million tons.

Summit relies on federal subsidy for CCS as well as proceeds from biofuel credits (low carbon fuel credit) generated from plants it serves.

The Biden administration’s federal budget reconciliation bill would, if passed, hike tax credits for carbon sequestration from $50 per ton of carbon to $85 per ton.

Summit estimates that the pipeline would eventually transport 12 million tonnes of CO2 annually from ethanol plants. This is enough to produce $1 billion in annual tax credits at a higher rate.

These fuels could then be shipped to states like Washington or California, which already have or are creating low carbon fuel markets. This would generate lucrative tradable credit.

This money can be a significant revenue source for the ethanol industry, which has been stagnant in recent years.

But the pipeline’s support for the ethanol industry falls flat with some environmentalists, who criticize the business for shifting millions of acres of pastureland, idle croplands, and forests into corn crop production.

“We’re wedding two highly polluting forms of energy in this macabre dance,” Mitch Jones, policy director of Food & Water Watch, said of ethanol and crude oil obtained through EOR.