The Van Trump Report

Green Methanol Companies Tout Technology as Viable Alternative to Carbon Capture Pipelines

As carbon dioxide pipelines continue to hit roadblocks, green methanol company “CapCO2 Solutions” is touting its technology as an alternative that can help the ethanol industry capture the maximum tax incentives provided by the US government.  Rather than relying on controversial pipelines to carry the captured carbon out of state, CapCO2’s technology can capture and convert carbon dioxide to green methanol on site. What’s more, the methanol produced would be another valuable renewable fuel that ethanol facilities could sell.

Several companies have projects in the works but most are building their own stand-alone plants. For instance, a company called Carbon Sink is working with Red River Energy in South Dakota to develop its system. CO2 from the ethanol plant will be piped into the adjacent Carbon Sink facility where renewable energy will power a system supplied by Topsoe. However, the design requires roughly 12 acres, along with access to water, storage, and rail. 

CapCO2’s technology is unique in that it’s an on-site solution. They use what are called “methanol modules,” which are shipping containers pre-built with technology licensed from a Polish firm that can be set up outside ethanol plants. As an ethanol plant emits CO2, the gas is captured, compressed, and processed with hydrogen.

The end product is methanol, a fuel being used in some industries to replace diesel. Danish shipping giant Maersk announced in November it needs 6 million tons of green methanol a year to reach its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target and even more by 2040 to get to net zero emissions.

According to CapCO2 CEO Jeff Bonar, the technology has the potential to reduce carbon emissions at ethanol plants by a similar amount as the proposed pipelines. Depending on the amount of carbon available, Bonar says most ethanol plants would likely require multiple methanol modules, which run about $12 million each.

To qualify as green methanol, ethanol producers also need to power the equipment from a source that does not generate carbon dioxide emissions, such as wind turbines or solar panels. He estimates the cost to install wind turbines near an ethanol plant might account for 10% or 15% of the total project cost. However, he also estimates that many companies might be able to recoup all their upfront costs within the first year.

“Green methanol is so valuable that it can quickly pay for additional zero-carbon power construction,” said Bonar. He adds that CapCO2’s technology is also less expensive and has a much smaller footprint than traditional methanol production systems.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, cautions that carbon capture for green methanol production is still a new and unproven technology.  “You can’t really go anywhere in the world and see one of these plants operating.” While Shaw doesn’t discount green methanol as a viable option in the future, he believes carbon pipelines offer a more immediate and proven solution.

Of the pipeline projects in the works, Summit Carbon Solutions is closest to being operational with a target date of 2026. Ethanol producers utilizing the pipeline would qualify for the maximum federal tax credits when selling their fuel into low-carbon markets. However, many pipeline opponents argue that those government incentives could disappear under future administrations.  

CapCO2’s technology will be put to the test this summer when its first project comes online at a Lena, Illinois, ethanol plant, which draws its power from a nuclear plant. You can learn more about the company HERE. (Sources: Iowa Capital Dispatch, Ethanol Producer Magazine, KCUR)

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