It’s All About Carbon Reduction Now

Ethanol Producer Magazine's editor reflects on the magnitude of the industry's burgeoning CCUS opportunity while previewing the November edition's coverage, from policy and trade to carbon sequestration monitoring and lab products innovation.
By Tom Bryan | October 19, 2022

Maybe once a decade, new technologies, new markets—or both—come along that push ethanol production to a higher level. Corn oil extraction and high-protein feed are two good examples, the former having already made the industry more financially stable and the latter on the same trajectory. But it may be fair to say neither compares to the unprecedented opportunity of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), for plants that can do it.

For most producers, the CCS opportunity is only possible through CO2 aggregation via pipelines, which, in turn, can’t be built unless all landowners along their proposed paths comply with easement requests. The irony about landowners opposing CCS pipelines is that many of them are farmers that benefit from corn ethanol production. And no matter what anyone says, the principal driver behind biofuels, today, is carbon reduction. So, if 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is being used for ethanol production, American corn farmers are already among the most significant players in climate change mitigation in the world. Plus, with incentives for climate-smart farming practices finally coming to fruition, allowing an underground CO2 pipeline to route through your farmland seems like an easy way to more deeply engage in low-carbon agriculture. It’s tough to understand how anyone sees it differently, but some do. 

In the meantime, ethanol producers with the right geologies under their plant, or nearby, are ready to capitalize on their good fortune. They will be the earliest beneficiaries of the enhanced CCC incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, which we explain in “A Big Lift for Carbon Capture,” on page 22.

Just before that story, you’ll find another piece on CCS that is most applicable to those studying carbon capture—or already doing it, like North Dakota’s Red Trail Energy LLC, which started injecting CO2 into the ground this past June. Red Trail is doing CCS independently, but not alone. The plant is leaning on numerous partners for things like geologic analysis and well-site engineering to post-injection seismic monitoring and CO2 plume tracking. “Sequestration Sensors,” on page 14, explains how plants like Red Trail will watch, study and even “listen” to their injection reservoirs.

From carbon capture we jump into operations with “Making Standards More Specialized,” on page 26, which profiles a leading supplier of ethanol plant lab supplies that, together with a top manufacturer, has been improving HPLC reference materials and mobile phase products through customization. Tailored lab products are a good thing, and here to stay.     
On page 30, you’ll find a timely article about the forthcoming U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard “set,” which will govern the EPA’s administration of the RFS post-2022. As we report in “The Road Ahead for the RFS,” the landmark policy is not expiring, but simply replacing its statutorily defined annual volume requirements with a new set of determining factors that will be used—with significant discretion by the EPA—to make future decisions about the program.    

Canada has its own biofuels program, the Clean Fuels Regulation, which supports domestic biofuel use through both in-country production and imported U.S. ethanol. As we explain in our anchor story, “More Ethanol Needed North of the Border,” on page 34, the recently updated CFR is expected to increase ethanol use in Canada through carbon intensity caps on gasoline starting in 2023. Already the top taker of U.S. ethanol, Canada’s more ambitious CFR should, at the very least, keep U.S. exports up north at their current levels for some time.

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor