Saturday, January 5, 2008

ADM Carbon Sequestration

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) announced an ambitious project yesterday to further improve the net carbon balance in ethanol production. At its plant in Decatur Illinois, the company will spend $85 million including money from the Department of Energy to pump carbon dioxide released during the production of ethanol into an underground sandstone formation that will store 1 million tons of carbon dioxide over a three year period. This would be particularly important for ethanol plants that heat their fermentors using coal rather than natural gas. The reason is that coal is a much cheaper and less volatile form of energy while natural gas has seen a strong surge in prices over the past year. On the flip side, ethanol production in a natural gas powered ethanol plant leads to a reduction of 16 - 20% greenhouse gas emissions over gasoline while coal powered plants only see a reduction of about 3 - 5% (National Geographic Oct. 2007 Issue). So if a company could reduce or eliminate the emission of GHGs during ethanol production, a cheap form of energy (coal) would become a reasonable alternative. This is, of course, if the process can be made economically viable, which is hard to tell at this point. ADM hopes that the procedure will prove to be a benefit to their plant and serve as a model for all industries, not just the ethanol industry, that carbon sequestration works. I guess we will just have to wait and see since the results won't be available until 2012.

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