Industry Market Trends

First Large-Scale Industrial Carbon Dioxide Capture Demo Snags 317,000 Tons in First Year

Nov 26, 2012

The first industrial-scale demonstration project for carbon capture, use and sequestration (CCUS) in the U.S. completed its first year of operation this month. In operation at a facility owned by agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the $208 million project is designed to test the feasibility of CCUS technology for mitigating carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sites.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced on Nov. 19 that the Illinois Basin Decatur Project (IBDP) has sequestered 317,000 metric tons of CO2 in its first year. NETL says the IBDP is "the first demonstration-scale project in the United States to use CO2 from an industrial source and inject it into a saline reservoir."

NETL manages a portfolio of CCUS projects through the Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership program. Its partner on the IBDP is the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium (MGSC).

Carbon dioxide at ADM's ethanol plant in Decatur, Ill., is captured and injected into underground storage. Credit: Dept. of Energy

The IBDP is operated at an ethanol production facility owned by ADM in Decatur, Ill. CO2 is captured at the ethanol plant and injected, in a compressed supercritical state (in excess of 31.1 deg Celsius and 1,057 psi), into the Mount Simon Sandstone reservoir 7,200 feet under the ground.

NETL says that, from testing and monitoring around the formation, the reservoir "is performing as expected, with very good injectivity, excellent storage capacity and no significant adverse environmental issues." The 317,000 tons sequestered so far make up about one-third of the 1 million tons planned to be captured for the three-year demonstration. CO2 is being sequestered at a rate of about 1,000 tons per day.

In NETL's Nov. 19 announcement, Charles McConnell, DOE's assistant secretary for fossil energy, said of the project, "We remain confident that the injected CO2 has been and will be safely and permanently stored."

The motivations for pursuing CCUS technologies, or geological sequestration, are powerful, according to MGSC. The consortium believes that "until alternative energy solutions become abundant and cost-effective, there is a growing need for research into alternative technological solutions that can reduce the carbon footprint of traditional fossil fuels while balancing environmental impacts."

CCUS is one of the promising bridge technologies currently being explored, the organization says. The industrial processes that make CCUS possible are not new, but "they have never been applied at the scale required to significantly reduce the atmospheric build-up of CO2," MGSC notes. This is the objective of the IBDP.

Stationary sources of CO2 in North America. Credit: National Energy Technology Laboratory

Geological Sequestration

The Illinois Basin is a 60,000-square-mile oval-shaped geological feature composed of sedimentary rock running beneath most of Illinois and much of Indiana and Kentucky. The basin has been a significant source of coal, petroleum and minerals. The Mount Simon sandstone formation, where the CCUS demonstration is being conducted, makes up part of the Illinois Basin. ADM's ethanol plant sits right above the formation, making it a perfect location for the NETL-MGSC collaboration.

In a description of the project, ADM says, "By some estimates, deep saline-rock formations in the United States could store up to 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, or about 18 times the total of all energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions released worldwide in 2005."

CO2 injection well. Credit: Dept. of Energy

Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere is pretty easy; all you have to do is burn something. But retrieving it and storing it in the ground is "a bit more complex," according to an explanation by MGSC.

The primary steps are:

  1. Characterization -- identification of potential sequestration sites based on their geological characteristics
  2. Capture -- separation and diversion of CO2 from the flue gas and process streams of stationary sources
  3. Transport -- carriage of supercritical CO2 fluid, predominantly via pipeline, to the sequestration site
  4. Storage -- injection of CO2 into underground geological formations such as coal seams, oil reservoirs or saline aquifers
  5. Monitoring -- tracking and evaluation of the geological formation being used to store the CO2, along with adjacent and surrounding areas, for potential effects on human health and the environment.

The Imperial College of London explains that there are two primary ways to capture CO2 from a combustion process: pre-combustion and post-combustion. Pre-combustion involves separating the hydrogen from a hydrocarbon fuel, producing a stream of CO2 as a result. Post-combustion capture usually involves employing membranes, solvents or other chemical agents to separate CO2 from flue gases and produce a pure stream of CO2. At its Decatur ethanol plant, ADM uses an amine process, a form of post-combustion solvent capture.

To sequester the CO2, the project uses a Class VI injection well, a designation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a well designed for storing carbon at large scale in geological formations without damaging underground sources of drinking water. The Class VI requirements address such issues as well siting, construction, operation, testing and monitoring.

CO2 sequestration diagram. Credit: National Energy Technology Laboratory

Starting in 2013, ADM plans to bring a second and larger CCUS facility into operation, which would add another 2,000 metric tons of CO2 capturing per day to the IBDP project. That planned facility, called the Illinois Industrial CCS Project (IL-CCS), is now under construction. The new integrated facility would collect, compress and dehydrate CO2 and deliver it to the injection and sequestration site.

NETL is part of DOE's national laboratory system. The lab focuses on research and development activities that enable the nation's use of coal, natural gas and oil resources in ways that protect the environment. The Illinois Basin Decatur Project is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the DOE's Clean Coal Power Initiative.