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Richardton ethanol plant makes carbon capture history

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 4:44 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - An ethanol plant in Richardton has received the governor’s blessing to install and practice carbon capture, the first for any ethanol plant in the state.

Red Trail Energy now has the written orders to store carbon in wells underground in the area surrounding its plant.

Carbon capture has been supported by state and industry leaders as a way of reducing carbon emissions and meeting new fuel demands.

Red Trail Energy calls it a stepping stone for the industry, but it’s also the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of research and millions of dollars in investments. So what does it take to become one of only a handful of ethanol plants in the country to install carbon capture?

Construction is underway in Richardton, as one of six ethanol plants in North Dakota builds the foundation for carbon capture.

The ethanol industry has had a turbulent past few years, but the potential revenues and tax credits which come with storing carbon are giving plants like these more options.

“We either need more export to have more stability or you need to differentiate yourself with low-carbon fuel markets to be able to step outside the box a little for long term viability in the company and for our investors in North Dakota,” said Gerald Bachmeier, Red Trail Energy CEO.

Many plants are looking for that stability too. Plants in other states have been suspending operations or closing down entirely for years.

Energy, industry, and political leaders at the highest levels say they’re trying to support the industry and expand the technologies nationwide.

“There is a massive opportunity for those bio-refineries that exist right now to bolt on basically some equipment that’s not that expensive, that allows them to do sustainable aviation fuels, but we’re also going to need another 200 refineries to be able to get to the volume of the goal that the industry has set for it,” said Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

On Tuesday, the North Dakota Industrial Commission approved a package of permissions for Red Trail to use underground wells to store carbon. The company has already begun installing monitoring devices with fiber optics cables to ensure the plumes are moving as projected and keeping the area safe.

Bachmeier said there’s still a lot of work to do, but he hopes to turn the valve in 90 to 100 days.

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