Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has plenty of supporters and critics. Is it a boondoggle that will do nothing to address potential climate change threats, or is this a creative way to reduce carbon emissions while creating jobs? A new project that launched in Decatur, Illinois will drive the debate.
Last week a groundbreaking ceremony was held for what the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) describes as the nation’s first large scale CCS facility plant. Located 180 miles south of Chicago, the project promises to store as many as one million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
The Decatur facility is supported in part by funds from the 2009 economic stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). The project will store CO2 emitted from the processing of corn into ethanol from a local Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) biofuels plant.
The ADM project will store (or sequester, depending on your preferred term), about 2500 metric tons of carbon dioxide daily. The CO2 will plunge to the bottom of the Mount Simon Sandstone formation (a diagram of which is pictured, courtesy Sequestration.org), which reaches depths of about 7000 feet. The capture and sequestration should start by summer 2013, and will create about 260 jobs with its construction and eventual operations. The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory will manage the project. The facility received funds of US$141 million in stimulus funding and another US$66.5 million from the private sector.
The Decatur facility is one of 16 projects that the DOE will fund in order to encourage the development of CCS and other post-combustion technologies, with five to ten fully operational by 2016.
One issue is whether ADM should receive any sort of funding at all. Organizations across the political spectrum, from environmental activist organizations to the Cato Institute, have long railed against subsidies the US$62 billion dollar company has gained over the years. The diversion of money for a corn ethanol-related project is sure to raise hackles as well.
Others will argue that the Decatur project is an important step in the development of clean technologies that will scale in the long run. Considering that the utility American Electric Power (AEP) ditched a US$668 million project earlier this summer after Congressional inaction on climate change legislation, all eyes will be on central Illinois to see the dream of “clean coal” will be reality–or not.