Carbon capture, utilization, and storage bring environmental and economic benefits
Tim Burrack describes himself as "a farmer who delivers corn to my POET plant."
But Burrack, who grows corn and soybeans in northeastern Iowa and delivers to the POET plant in Fairbank, has a long history as a big-picture, forward-thinking leader in the ag sector. He has served as president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Vice-Chairman and Board Member for the Global Farmer Network, and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board Chairman.
"The world is decarbonizing," said Burrack, who planted his 50th crop this year. "Governments have decided we're going to decarbonize, and they're going to put billions of dollars into it. Private industry has decided they're going to decarbonize, and they're going to spend billions of dollars. I look at the trends, and I can see that the fuels for the future are going to have a lower carbon intensity score than the ones we're running today."
For Burrack, lowering those carbon intensity (CI) scores means capturing and sequestering more CO2. And that means looking at the future of moving that CO2 effectively. This is not possible without corn farmers and landowners working together to secure their future.
"If we can get bioethanol's CI score down, it can continue to be a viable fuel for the future," said Burrack. "We may have different opinions on it, but that means we need to support the platforms that will carry the CO2. We can all help each other. And, to me, Navigator [CO2 Ventures] looks like the best organization to make this happen the right way. If bioethanol is viable in the future, that means the corn industry is viable, which helps agriculture, which is good for everyone in the Midwest.
"We can't do that without progress. We can't do that without investing in the future for farmers."
- Tim Burrack
On the environmental side of things, capturing and utilizing more carbon dioxide could, according to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, "slow, stop, or potentially reverse ... the effects of climate change."
On the economic side, the large-scale capture of CO2, a natural co-product of bioethanol production, has been an ever-increasing value add for farmers and the ag industry.
And, from their headquarters in Omaha, Navigator is working to bring these two ideas together through the Heartland Greenway system, described as "one of the first large-scale, commercially viable carbon capture projects to be developed in the United States."
Navigator CO2 Ventures was founded by the Navigator Energy Services management team with the purpose of focusing on "redefining the carbon ecosystem so that businesses, communities, and the planet can thrive." The company has built over 1,300 miles of new infrastructure since being founded in 2012. Today, the management team brings a collective 200-plus years of industry experience and 6,400 miles of pipeline construction built collectively.
The Heartland Greenway system will provide carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) services for more than 30 bioprocessors and food production companies in the Farm Belt. It is projected to safely and efficiently transport up to 15 million tons of liquid CO2 every year across a pipeline connecting 1,300 miles of bioprocessing facilities and sales sites and storage facilities across Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois.
The project is more than just a 1,300-mile pipeline. Heartland Greenway will help customers finance and build their carbon dioxide capture equipment on-site — capturing CO2 that is already being produced and may otherwise be discharged into the atmosphere. It will transport the liquid CO2 to connect plants to the most effective sites to store or sell their CO2 — all while reducing a collective carbon footprint.
"Capturing CO2 from bioethanol production is something we've been doing for a number of years," said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for Navigator. "Transporting CO2 as a liquid in a pipeline is also not terribly new for this country — we've been doing it for decades. What we're looking at is taking those processes and growing them. We're making sure that we're efficiently and effectively connecting the points that have CO2 to the areas that need it."
While other CO2 collection comes from invasive drilling and sources like ammonia production facilities and oil refineries, the CO2 destined for Heartland Greenway is predominately created from a renewable resource: corn. It's better for the environment, and it benefits farmers.
"We hope people appreciate the environmental foundation of this project," said Burns-Thompson, who was raised on an Iowa farm and went to college for ag business. "But at the end of the day, bioethanol plants are businesses; farmers are businesses. This is one of those unique opportunities where farmers get to be involved in the development of critical infrastructure for the future of an industry that they developed."
POET, for their part, has been capturing — and selling — CO2 since 1998. Today, 15 of POET's plants supply the highest-grade liquid carbon dioxide to customers across the U.S. for everything from flash-freezing food to fighting fires to carbonating beverages.
In the future, there is potential for additional revenue to be passed on to farmers in the form of higher prices paid for lower-carbon corn.
A direct pipeline to each of POET's CO2 plants would make their carbon capture — and the subsequent storage and sales — even more cost-efficient and even more environmentally friendly.
CCUS is an important component in meeting important carbon-reduction goals for all of the region's bioprocessing facilities. Some of these goals and mandates have been set by the U.S. Government; some have been self-imposed (POET, for example, recently pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050).
Many industry leaders, and many farmers, recognize that the CO2 capture side of the ag industry needs to move forward and fast. That means more bioethanol plants capturing more CO2. That means better logistics. And that means more efficient, less carbon-intensive methods for moving CO2 to markets than the trucks or trains in use today.
And that, for the region's bioethanol plants (including POET), means partnering with Navigator CO2 through the Heartland Greenway system.
“We recognize that now is the time to take bold action to preserve our planet for future generations,” said Jeff Broin, POET Founder and CEO. “POET has been a leader in low-carbon biofuels and CO2 capture for commercial use for decades, and this project is another significant step in utilizing bioprocessing to accelerate our path to net zero."
In June of 2022, POET announced that it had officially partnered with Navigator CO2 for CCUS services of 5 million metric tons of POET carbon dioxide every year. By the end of 2022, the agreement was finalized.
“We choose our partners carefully, and we believe Navigator has the expertise to deliver long-term value to rural America by further positioning agricultural commodities as a viable source of low-carbon liquid fuels to power our future,” said Broin.
For Steve Lee, Navigator's Executive Vice President of Engineering and Construction, the Heartland Greenway team brings all of the experience of midstream infrastructure to a project that directly benefits the economy, the area, and the people it covers.
"This is a project that represents a full circle of benefits," said Lee, who spent 20-plus years in the oil and gas industry, much of it on the transmission and pipeline side, before joining Navigator. "Pipelines have been the safest system of transportation for the past 30 years, and they keep getting safer. There are no long-term effects to land use. This is a project where the farmers can help the bioethanol producers who can help the farmers. Everyone can benefit."