CCS for North Dakota Ethanol Production

Cornfield near Richardton, North Dakota, with Red Trail Ethanol Production Facility Red Trail Energy’s ethanol-manufacturing facility near Richardton, North Dakota, produces approximately 64 million gallons of ethanol annually.

This research project is assessing the technical and economic feasibility of integrating carbon capture and storage (CCS) with ethanol production processes to reduce net CO2 emissions. North Dakota has both significant ethanol production capacity and geology well suited for safe, permanent CO2 storage. CCS may also be an economical option for reducing CO2 emissions to qualify for market credits by meeting the requirements of low-carbon fuel programs in other states. No CO2 injection will occur during this research project.

Low-Carbon Fuel Programs

The objective of low-carbon fuel programs is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of transportation fuels. The details and standards for these state government programs are determined by the legislators and regulatory agencies that develop and design them. As of March 2020, California, Oregon, and British Columbia have active low-carbon fuels programs. Other areas of the United States looking to pass bills to establish a low-carbon fuels program are Washington State, Colorado, and several midwestern states as well as federal Canadian and Brazilian efforts.

Online Resources:
British Columbia:
Washington State:
Greenhouse Gas Management Institute:
Government of Canada, Clean Fuel Standard:
Brazil's Renovabio:
LCFS 101 – A Beginner’s Guide:

What Will the Project Achieve?

Commercial technologies to capture and separate CO2 emissions from the fermentation process already exist. The study provides local ethanol producers with a detailed assessment of the commercial feasibility of incorporating capture, transport, and storage of the CO2 emissions within their production operations. The ultimate goal of this effort is to implement commercial CCS at an ethanol production facility to make a fuel that qualifies for low-carbon fuel programs.

Red Trail Energy CCS project update

What Is the Project Investigating?

The project is looking at a commercial CCS effort associated with Red Trail Energy’s ethanol-manufacturing facility near Richardton, North Dakota. This includes capture technology, permanent geologic storage, economic impact, and permitting. Two deep rock layers are under consideration for permanent storage. The Broom Creek Formation, a thick sandstone rock layer located approximately 6400 feet below the Richardton facility, and the Inyan Kara Formation, a sandstone layer about 4800 feet deep, are being considered as the target injection zone for potential geologic storage of captured CO2. According to previous studies conducted by the Energy & Environmental Center (EERC), these formations are sealed by shales thousands of feet thick and are expected to make an suitable storage container. The research is also investigating qualifications to be eligible for low-carbon fuel programs while complying with North Dakota regulations for CO2 injection and permanent storage.

State Regulations for Dedicated CO2 Sequestration

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the ultimate authority to permit and regulate all injection wells in the United States as a means to protect drinking water resources. This authority covers six types or classes of injection wells. As this is a labor-intensive task, EPA grants primary regulatory authority to states where the state regulators have petitioned and proved competency to be that authority by having established regulations that meet or exceed EPA standards. Such permission is called "primacy" and must be sought for each class of wells.

As of January 2020, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources (NDDMR) Division of Oil & Gas (under the Industrial Commission of North Dakota) is the only state regulator that has received authority from EPA to permit and regulate CO2 injection wells for geologic sequestration (Class VI). This is official recognition by EPA that the NDDMR’s comprehensive regulations for dedicated permanent CO2 storage wells meet or exceed EPA’s standards and that entities that want to develop CCS sites can work directly with the regulators most familiar with the geology and environmental conditions in North Dakota. The outcome is anticipated to be a faster process (i.e., CO2 emissions eliminated sooner), more reliable for industrial partners, and more accessible with more direct oversight for human safety and environmental protection.

Who Is Doing the Research?

The EERC in Grand Forks, North Dakota, manages the project on behalf of the partners, which include Red Trail Energy, the North Dakota Industrial Commission Renewable Energy Program, Trimeric Corporation, Schlumberger Carbon Services, Computer Modelling Group Ltd., and the U.S. Department of Energy.

What Are We Learning?

Starting in late 2016, the Red Trail Energy case study began evaluating the potential for CCS integration with ethanol production at the Richardton location. EERC research successfully demonstrated preliminary technical and economic feasibility of CCS technology at the site. The current phase of research includes more in-depth assessments, such as detailed designs and plans for capturing, transporting, and storing CO2 specifically for the Red Trail Energy ethanol facility, investigating the site’s geology, and gathering the information needed to comply with state regulations for injection and permanent storage.

What Are the Next Steps?

Results of a geophysical survey carried out in March 2019 show promising geology under the ethanol plant east of Richardton. The next step is to drill a hole to the potential storage zones to collect rock samples, fluids, and other geologic data to enhance the geologic models and improve the accuracy and precision of the CO2 injection simulations. Drilling and sample collection are taking place in spring 2020. Analyzing the data and evaluating the geology/refined models will take most of 2020.

For more information, contact Kerryanne Leroux, Project Manager, EERC, (701) 777-5013
or Dustin Willet, Chief Operating Officer, Red Trail Energy,, (701) 974-3308.