On April 7, Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) announced that it had moved from demonstration to deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at its Decatur, Illinois ethanol plant.  Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) collects carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere by industrial and power generating sources, and pumps it deep underground for long term storage. The Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage (ICCS) project will store over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.

The project is the first commercial scale deployment of CCS at an ethanol facility.  Handily, a byproduct of ethanol production is nearly pure CO2.  At the Decatur facility, the gas is converted to a fluid and using an underground injection system is injected into deep geological formations, nearly 7,000 feet below ADM’s Decatur ethanol plant.  The Decatur facility produces 350 million gallons of ethanol and over a million tons of CO2 per year.  Built in 1973, the Decatur plant is coal-fired. Newer ethanol plants use natural gas or even waste cellulose to power the refinery. 

From 2011 to 2014, the Decatur project was in test-phase, storing approximately 1 million tons of CO2 into the Mount Simon Sandstone, with monitoring of the site since 2014.  The site has an operating permit for five years and could store 5 million tons of CO2.

CCS requires a particular geology -- porous rocks, such as sandstone -- that are capped by an impermeable layer. The Mt. Simon Stanstone, which lies underneath the Decatur plant is the perfect candidate and has the potential to “store billions of tons of CO2,” according to Sallie Greenberg, a state geologist. “The significance of this it is an upscale, more industrial scale injection … so this a big step forward in terms of the commercialization of carbon capture and storage,” according to Greenberg.

From 2011 to 2014, the Decatur project was in test-phase, storing approximately 1 million tons of CO2 into the Mount Simon Standstone, with monitoring of the site since 2014. The site has an operating permit for five years and could store 5 million tons of CO2.

The project was funded in-part by $141.1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. Federal investment in carbon capture and sequestration has received criticism from budget hawks and green groups alike. Despite having received billions in federal funding, there are few commercial-scale projects currently operating.  Green groups have argued CCS acts to prop up the fossil fuel industry, as most of current CCS technology is used for enhanced oil recovery.  Still others argue that CO2 should be used to make fuels and products rather than placed in a “carbon landfill”.  Already, other ethanol facilities sell waste CO2 to the beverage industry.

But, there is simply too much excess CO2 in the atmosphere. The longer meaningful climate change mitigation is delayed, the more difficult meeting a less than 2 degree Celsius warming scenario will be. A two degree warming scenario translates to deep cuts in emissions, as much as 70 percent by 2050, with a decarbonized or even carbon negative economy necessary by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Indeed, many of the assumptions about capping warming at 2 degrees Celsius, including those of IPCC, require the use of carbon negative technologies, such as biomass and CCS (or BECSS).  

While the Trump administration has expressed support for “clean coal” technology, the office that oversees CCS projects at the Department of Energy is on the chopping block. In the President’s budget request, DOE’s office of Fossil Energy Research and Development would see a 50 percent budget cut for the remainder of 2017.

According to ADM’s chief technology officer, Todd Werpy, “The technology that we are using in Decatur can be a model for reducing industrial carbon emissions around the world.”  It is still unknown if the use of CCS will make the Decatur plant truly carbon negative, but preliminary research suggests that it is possible.


For more information see:

Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Project, Global CCS Institute

ADM Begins Operations for Second Carbon Capture and Storage Project, ADM

The quest to capture and store carbon – and slow climate change – just reached a new milestone, The Washington Post