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Red Trail Energy capturing CO2, but still waiting to benefit

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Red Trail Energy CEO Gerald Bachmeier, left, and Plant Manager Kent Glasser talk about the carbon capture and storage project at the ethanol facility Wednesday in Richardton. 

RICHARDTON -- Red Trail Energy is more than a month into its carbon capture and storage operations but still waiting to benefit from climate-conscious markets.

CEO Gerald Bachmeier during an open house at the Richardton plant on Wednesday said the facility has sequestered 19,335 metric tons of climate-warming carbon emissions since beginning its carbon capture operations in mid-June.

“It’s low-carbon fuel standard markets within the United States that makes it possible,” he said. 

The ethanol facility has the first carbon capture and storage project approved under state primacy in the United States. Primacy refers to the state having primary enforcement authority. But the plant is still waiting to prosper from selling ethanol to the West Coast market, where states such as California have policies favoring fuels with a low carbon intensity.

“We do sell into those markets, but we have not yet gotten rewarded for the lower CI (carbon index) score that we do have today,” Plant Manager Kent Glasser said. “But the way the process works is we have to prove the reduction in our CI scores. So there’s a 90-day period where we have to gather data and basically produce the data to those markets that shows our CI score is actually lower. Our fuel is analyzed from start to finish -- cradle to grave, so to speak.”

Glasser added that the plant is about a month into the 90-day process of getting approval from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the California Air Resource Board. He noted that Red Trail is analyzed for its carbon emissions from when the corn is planted, to the chemical processes used at the ethanol facility, to final combustion of the ethanol fuel in vehicles. 

“So obviously the lower, the better,” he said.

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A transfer line that moves carbon emissions into a well underground is shown at Red Trail Energy's carbon capture and storage facility in Richardton.  

Capture process

Glasser walked through the carbon capture process, beginning with the corn used to make the fuel, and how it is stored in concrete silos on Red Trail’s property. Most of the corn comes in locally via truck. Starches in the corn are converted into edible sugars for yeast.

“The byproduct of fermentation is ethanol and CO2. From there, we have to separate out the ethanol, and we do that by distillation,” Glasser said.

Before, the carbon dioxide would get released into the atmosphere. Now, those emissions are being permanently stored in a well underground. 

The first step in the carbon capture and storage process happens when CO2 hits the blowers, which sends it to a system where it’s turned from a gas to a liquid. It's then pumped into a transfer line underground, where it is permanently stored more than a mile below the surface in the Broom Creek rock formation. 

“For now, it’s just being captured and stored. It can potentially, in the future, be used for other things,” Glasser said.

Reach Jackie Jahfetson at 701-250-8252 or jackie.jahfetson@bismarcktribune.com.

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