Three Iowa companies want to spend billions to collect carbon dioxide from bio-refineries in the upper Midwest and build a pipeline network to ship it to sites for sequestering in underground caverns—the first such interstate system for CO2 recovery and storage in the U.S.

But an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, local governments and Republican Midwest farmers are uniting to oppose them.

Summit Carbon Solutions, a subsidiary of Summit Agriculture Group, an agribusiness and investment firm in the U.S. and Brazil, has proposed the largest of the three—a $4.5-billion, 1,958-mile CO2 pipeline that links to 32 ethanol plants across five states to reduce the carbon footprint of ethanol production and increase its long-term viability in agricultural business.

Dubbed the Midwest Carbon Express and set to operate in 2024, the project would capture and compress carbon dioxide from the fermentation process of bio-refineries, and transport it to North Dakota to be stored underground in deep geologic storage locations.

The company has 100,000 acres of surface area, with wells designed to permanently store 12 million tons of CO2 a year, with capacity that could be expanded to 15 million tpy, Summit Carbon Solutions Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Powell told ENR.

The project would cut the carbon dioxide production of the 32 currently affiliated ethanol plants in half, he said.

The carbon steel pipeline would span five states—Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota—and would range in size from 4 in. to 24 in. in diameter, depending on its location along the system. It would operate at a maximum 2,183 PSI and be installed at a minimum depth of 48 in., the company said in a filing to the Iowa Utilities Commission.

Iowa would have the most pipeline miles, nearly 800.

A study by Ernst & Young said the project would support 7,862 construction contractor and supplier jobs during the construction period 2022 through 2024. Summit Carbon Solutions said it has raised equity investment of $600 million.


Trio of Projects

A second project proposed by Navigator Energy Services, a Dallas midstream services company, energy firm Valero, which operates 13 ethanol plants along with petrochemicals, and investment firm BlackRock Real Assets, is Heartland Greenway—a $2-billion, 1,200-mile gathering and transportation pipeline system able to store up to 5 million metric tons of CO2 a year.

It would transport liquefied carbon dioxide through a 6-in. to 24-in. pipeline from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota and Illinois to a central sequestration plant in south-central Illinois. The company said the project will include five injection wells and 15 monitoring wells and could be expanded to 8 million metric tons per year. Construction jobs are expected to number 8,000.

One other proposed project by agri-business giant Archer Daniel Midlands and Wolf Carbon Solutions would be a 350-mile trunk pipeline designed as a backbone to support transporting 12 million tons of CO2 a year from ADM’s ethanol and cogeneration plants in Iowa to its sequestration site in Decatur, Ill. The pipeline will have spare capacity to serve other customers across the Midwest and Ohio River Valley, the companies said. Project details were not available.


Pros and Cons

Supporters of the Midwest Carbon Express worry that without reducing CO2, they would lose substantial revenue if ethanol fails to remain viable and cannot compete in low carbon fuel markets. More than half of the corn grown in Iowa us used to make ethanol. “There is economic benefit to state farmers to keep the demand for corn high,” said Summit Carbon Solutions' Powell.

Opponents say the projects are not public utilities and should not receive eminent domain status to cross private property. The Sioux County, Iowa, Board of Supervisors said that “CO2 pipelines serve no public purpose or utility."

Franklin County, Iowa “strongly” urged state regulators to “cautiously and carefully” consider the benefits. “There is no direct benefit to the people,” it said, noting that the financial gains are only to the private businesses involved.

Farmers are worried how it will affect property values and corn production, and Sioux County said its citizens are worried about pipeline safety.  

“There is a big honey pot of tax credits that companies are racing to get a piece of,”  said Jess Mazour, conservation program coordinator for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club.

Currently the federal credit is $31.77 per metric ton for geologically sequestered CO2, increasing to $50 per metric ton by 2026, according to the Congressional Research Service. Construction must begin by Jan. 1, 2026. The credit currently is available for 12 years and until 75 million tons have been sequestered.

“We’ve heard rumors of a fourth or maybe a fifth pipeline project,” she said.

Environmentalists are also concerned that CO2 will be used for enhanced oil recovery from old wells, which also qualify for federal tax credits.


Going Forward


Summit Carbon Solutions has filed for a hazardous liquids pipeline in Iowa and South Dakota and seek necessary permits in North Dakota in May. The projec also needs a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers federal Clean Water Act permit for three major river crossings.

Wood Engineering performed early front-end engineering and design and Trimeric Corp., which has carbon capture system design experience, is conducting preliminary engineering on systems that will be located at each ethanol plant, Powell said.

The company has awarded EPC contracts for all phases of the project. Dallas-based Primoris Servicing Corp. will build 24 carbon capture and compression plants, said Powell. Kansas-based ICM will build seven plants and Gulf Interstate Engineering, Houston, will build the pipeline, he added.

Navigator has yet to file for an Iowa permit but submitted a project overview in October. The company told ENR it plans to file for state and federal permits in late summer to early fall, but would not give more detailed information on the project or engineering and construction contract awards.

Wolf Carbon Solutions has not made a filing to Iowa, Donald Tormey, Iowa Utilities Commission spokesman, told ENR.