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Ethanol Plant Collaboration Aims to Cultivate Low-Carbon Corn
Ethanol Plant Collaboration Aims to Cultivate Low-Carbon Corn

Ethanol Plant Collaboration Aims to Cultivate Low-Carbon Corn

  • 30-Apr-2024 5:06 PM
  • Journalist: Bob Duffler

Red Trail Energy, renowned as the nation's pioneer ethanol plant utilizing carbon capture and storage, is embarking on a groundbreaking initiative to incentivize farmers to cultivate low-carbon corn through a premium pricing program. Teaming up with Indigo Ag, a provider of software and monitoring tools, Red Trail aims to calculate carbon intensity scores, thus rewarding farmers for adopting sustainable agricultural practices. While some farmers may need to adjust their practices to align with climate-friendly standards, others may simply need to provide documentation of their existing methods. "We're really just in the discovery phase on how all this is going to work," commented Jodi Johnson, CEO of Red Trail, reflecting the industry's collective learning curve in navigating the burgeoning low-carbon fuel market.

To access the low-carbon market, ethanol plants must lower their carbon intensity scores. Red Trail achieved this by investing approximately $35 million in a carbon capture and sequestration system. This innovative system captures carbon emissions from the fermentation process of ethanol production, compresses them, and transports them via pipeline to an underground storage site. Situated in Richardton, southwest North Dakota, Red Trail benefits from favorable geological conditions conducive to underground carbon storage. In 2022, it became the first ethanol plant in the nation to implement carbon capture technology.

The collaboration with Indigo Ag marks another significant step in reducing Red Trail's carbon intensity score. In the ethanol production process, each unit of corn used is assigned a standard carbon intensity score, contributing to the overall score of the ethanol plant. By documenting sustainable farming practices, both the carbon intensity score of the corn and the ethanol plant can be lowered, thereby enhancing the value of the ethanol derived from such corn.

Red Trail Energy, LLC (RTE), an investor group based in North Dakota, was established with the purpose of financing, constructing, and operating a corn-based ethanol production facility near Richardton, North Dakota. This vision materialized with the inauguration of the $99 million state-of-the-art plant in January 2007. Currently, RTE employs 47 staff members, contributing to an annual payroll of $4 million. Initially designed as one of the pioneering coal-fired ethanol plants in the country, RTE underwent a conversion to natural gas in 2016. With an annual corn consumption ranging from 21-23 million bushels, RTE produces between 59-64 million gallons of ethanol. The plant yields approximately 2.8 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. RTE also generates co-products, including 125,000 tons of dried distillers grain, 80,000 tons of modified wetcake, and 15 million pounds of corn oil annually.

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