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Plain Talk: North Dakota has slashed the time it takes to permit a carbon capture project

Red Trail Energy CEO Gerald Bachmeier sees a bright future for carbon capture. "For North Dakota's industries, I think we have a huge opportunity."

Red Trail Energy LLC of Richardton, N.D.
Red Trail Energy LLC of Richardton, N.D.
Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — I suspect that many in the general public, when they hear about carbon capture, think of it as some pie-in-the-sky thing. Something that's being developed. That's in the work. Not really something that is, as yet, a practical part of modern industry.

Except, the state of North Dakota just permitted its first carbon capture project under state primacy. Which is to say, that state officials reviewed and permitted the project, not the feds.

It's the first time that's ever happened in the United States.

That state control made all the difference.

That's what Gerald Bachmeier, the chief executive officer of Red Trail Energy, said on this episode of Plain Talk. His company just added carbon capture to their ethanol facility near Richardton, North Dakota. It officially began capturing carbon on June 16, 2022, and they expect to store underground 100 percent of the 180,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually from its fermentation process.

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That's a big deal, but the regulatory process leading up to it may be the bigger deal. According to Bachmeier, it took North Dakota officials less than a year to permit their project. He compared that to the experience of another ethanol plant in Iowa which waited more than six years to get their permit from the feds at the EPA.

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He expects North Dakota will be able to permit future projects even faster. "Ours took a little longer because we were the first one," he said.

Going forward, his company expects to add to their capture operations. He says the next phase is to capture the carbon coming off their heating systems, at which point their facility will be nearly carbon zero. He also said a part of their business in the future may be selling access to their storage well to other carbon-emitting businesses.

And that's a key factor in all of this. For Red Trail, capturing this carbon wasn't just a good environmental decision, but a good business decision as well. While the cost of developing this project was around $38 million, he expects his company will bring in upwards of $9 million per year in revenues from 45Q tax credits from the federal government, as well as commanding $0.15 cents per gallon more for their ethanol thanks to a better carbon rating.

Bachmeier sees a bright future for carbon capture. "For North Dakota's industries, I think we have a huge opportunity."

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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