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Column: Carbon capture is North Dakota's next opportunity

Carbon capture will boost North Dakota's ethanol industry, writes Ryan Thorpe of Tharaldson Ethanol in Casselton. "This transition is critical to not just maintaining but bolstering the ethanol industry that here in North Dakota supports more than 10,000 jobs and contributes nearly $650 million to the annual GDP in the United States," he said.

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The Tharaldson Ethanol plant at Casselton, N.D., was built in 2008 for about $280 million, and employs 57 people. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service
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Over the past decade and more, North Dakota has embraced emerging industries that produced job creation and economic growth well beyond the national average. As a result, our state has been well positioned to withstand the inevitable downturns in the U.S. economy, including the ongoing fallout from the global health pandemic, trade wars and more.

Even in the face of those challenges, North Dakota is poised once again to unlock new opportunities that can help bring about long-term economic gains for families and communities across the state. Carbon capture and sequestration, particularly within the ethanol industry, is at the top of that list.

While I certainly recognize there are differing opinions when it comes to the impact of carbon emissions, the economic benefits of carbon capture and sequestration are undeniable. A number of states have adopted low carbon fuel standards and several other states are considering similar policies. These markets pay a premium for fuels with reduced carbon intensity, or CI, scores.

Ethanol plants utilizing carbon capture and sequestration will immediately realize a substantial reduction in the CI score of its product and actually put it on track to be a net zero fuel by the end of the decade. The result is that these facilities can access the growing low carbon fuel markets and earn a more substantial profit in the meantime. This transition is critical to not just maintaining but bolstering the ethanol industry that here in North Dakota supports more than 10,000 jobs and contributes nearly $650 million to the annual GDP in the United States.

The benefits are even broader than that. Local ethanol plants purchase roughly 50% of all the corn that is grown in North Dakota. The stronger the ethanol industry, the better it is for corn growers here in North Dakota and across the Midwest. Maintaining this critical end market for corn will help maintain farmers' profitability and keep the broader agricultural economy vibrant and growing.

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This is exactly the approach being proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions. The company’s Midwest Carbon Express project is a partnership with 31 ethanol plants across the upper Midwest, including Tharaldson Ethanol in Casselton where I have the privilege of serving as chief operating officer. Through a $4.5 billion private investment, Summit Carbon Solutions will create new infrastructure to capture up to 12 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. Importantly, the captured CO2 will be transported through a new state-of-the-art pipeline system to just outside of Bismarck where it will be permanently and safely sequestered. The permanent storage here in North Dakota represents an additional economic opportunity that will provide meaningful compensation to local landowners and an ongoing source of economic development for the state in the years to come.

Just this fall, state officials granted approval for the first carbon dioxide storage project in North Dakota and Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms noted that those approvals represented a “landmark day” for the state . I agree and strongly believe that carbon capture and sequestration should be an important part of our state’s future particularly the Midwest Carbon Express project.

With more than 5,000 miles of CO2 pipelines already in operation in the United States and carbon capture technology deployed today at more than 40 ethanol plants nationally, Summit Carbon Solutions is offering a proven and safe approach that will drive economic growth, improve environmental outcomes, and boost industries that are critical to North Dakota. I hope that state and local officials, landowners, and more will embrace this project just as they have embraced other innovative investments in recent years.

Ryan Thorpe is the Chief Operating Officer of Tharaldson Ethanol in Casselton, N.D.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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