Ag Carbon Accounting—Coupled with CCS—Changes the Game

While highlighting the potentially transformative impact of coupling carbon capture and sequestration with sound agricultural GHG accounting, Ethanol Producer Magazine's editor previews the feature articles in the publication's November edition.
By Tom Bryan | October 14, 2021

If you’re a regular reader of Ethanol Producer Magazine, you know we’ve been covering carbon capture and storage (CCS) extensively for months, from the 30-plus facilities signed on to participate in the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline to Valero’s agreement with Navigator CO2 Ventures and the dozens of independent ethanol plants moving forward with CCS around the country—from Richardton, North Dakota, to Keyes, California.

We share the industry’s enthusiasm for CCS, and we plan to continue covering it heavily in 2022 with bimonthly articles that dissect and explain how ethanol plant CO2 will be captured, compressed, transported, injected and monitored. Our reporters will look at how different geologies are assessed for carbon storage suitability, how the logistics and economics of CO2 aggregation work, how ownership and liability issues are being hammered out in advance of sequestration, and how injection sites will be managed long term. If you’re interested in being a part of our 2022 Ethanol Industry Carbon Capture and Storage series, contact me at [email protected]       
No doubt, the potential of CCS to dramatically reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of grain ethanol production—cutting today’s CI scores in half—should alone make the Biden administration reconsider its entranced march toward electric vehicles. And, of course, CCS is only part of our story. As U.S. ethanol producers continue to achieve greater efficiencies and higher output with less energy and water, corn farming is at the threshold of finally getting the credit it deserves for sequestering CO2 within soil. The quest for net-zero carbon that Poet and other U.S. ethanol producers have committed to—mirroring President Biden’s call for net-zero emissions by 2050—suddenly appears possible with technology-driven efficiencies, CCS and agricultural GHG accounting being mathematically amalgamated to produce carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative biofuels.

In “Carbon Counting on the Farm,” of page 24, we catch up with industry farmers and advocates on the leading edge of this agricultural GHG accounting movement. They are creating tools—and proof—to justify credit for the soil carbon sequestration that results from climate-smart farming practices like no-till, ridge tilling, cover crops and advanced nutrient management. The end goal—and to some extent, it’s already begun—is that low-carbon biofuel markets, starting with California, will give ethanol plants using low- and negative-carbon corn a reduced CI score, making farm-level carbon accounting pay.

The industry has known for years that it would need to transition from the old DOT-111 rail cars to the much safer DOT-117s. While the deadline for completing that transition, just months away, is firm—there will reportedly be no flexibility for non-compliance—the ethanol industry is ready for the switch.

In “Remaining on Track,” on page 16, we report that over 75% of the ethanol industry’s tank cars are now 117s, and the rest should be transitioned over by next summer. Ultimately, the tank car transition that had everyone worried a few years ago turned out to be kind of a non-issue, while rail safety and track maintenance will always require vigilance.  

Finally, check out “Export Expectations,” on page 30, which presents a hopeful outlook on the reemergence of our critical foreign markets for ethanol and distillers grains. Even as stubborn Covid variants and unresolved trade issues with China linger, exports of both products are trending toward pre-pandemic levels—and good news like that is always worth sharing.

Author: Tom Bryan