SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Lincolnway Energy is an ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. It's one of dozens of ethanol plants scattered across the Midwest. Its largest byproduct is carbon dioxide. Upwards of 5 billion tons are emitted in the U.S. every year.
Now, three companies want to sequester that gas, liquify it, and store it underground. That process is known as carbon sequestration and it has become a hot-button topic across the corn belt.
"I think it's really great to partner up with Summit Carbon Solutions because it's going to secure the future of ethanol plants," said Chris Cleveland, "not only Lincolnway here, but other ethanol producers along with the farmers and the corn growers and their future and their next generations, too."
SUMMIT CARBON SOLUTIONS
Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with Lincolnway Energy to capture and sequester its carbon dioxide. Summit is one of the corporations with plans to build a $3.7 billion liquid carbon-capture pipeline through the Midwest.
"It's compressing that carbon, putting it into a transportation infrastructure system or a pipeline and then moving it to a sequestration site, which ultimately will then store that carbon molecule under Caprock in North Dakota." Lee Blank is the CEO of Summit Carbon Solutions. "Really what I liken it to maybe the transcontinental railroad. You know, in 1862 I believe, we decided as a country to open markets up and the railroad helped us do that. That's really what this does."
If you think about the infrastructure project almost as logistics, it opens markets for plants like this one here in Nevada to give it other places that they can ship their products at a premium.
Summit's pipeline will connect more than 30 ethanol plants across five states, spanning 2,000 miles, capturing more than 12 million tons of CO2 each year. The pressurized liquid carbon dioxide will be stored deep underground near Bismarck, North Dakota.
If everything goes according to plan, "we would hope to be fully operational first quarter of 2025," Lee said.
NAVIGATOR CO2 VENTURES
"Navigator CO2 is a midstream company, midstream meaning pipeline. So the folks that work for our team are individuals that have a great level of experience and expertise designing, constructing, and operating midstream or pipeline infrastructure all around the United States." A second pipeline, Heartland Greenway's Navigator CO2 Ventures, will also capture and liquefy CO2 from ethanol producers to be stored in South-Central Illinois.
"The Heartland Greenway, the project itself, at its initial kind of stages, looks to be about 1,300 miles of new pipeline infrastructure, connecting 21 facilities across five states here in the corn belt," said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for Navigator. "All of that infrastructure is really looking to do carbon management at its core, right."
We've taken that skill set, curated it into the CO2 space and brought forward the project the Heartland Greenway that's being talked about largely today.
Navigator's pipeline, once installed and in operation, will capture and store approximately 15 million metric tons of CO2 a year. They too, plan to be up and running in 2025.
WOLF CARBON SOLUTIONS
A third carbon capture pipeline, Wolf Carbon Solutions, is a smaller 280-mile pipeline crossing Cedar Rapids and Davenport in eastern Iowa on its way to storage sites in Illinois.
These three pipelines have been met with heavy resistance from some landowners along their path.
It was just out of the blue. We got a registered mail, and it just notified us what they were thinking about doing and the meeting, the upcoming meeting.
Roger Schmid is one of those landowners. Living in northwest Iowa, he and hundreds of others received registered letters in the mail informing them of a meeting with Summit and Navigator. Those meetings announced the project and informed these landowners they were in the path of these pipelines.
Landowners are asked to sign easements allowing the pipeline to pass through their property. Some are not on board, like Jim Colyer.
"Whatever meetings that we have attended on the informational meeting, the information is different," Colyer told me. "So they have honed their skill on what they're telling us over different meetings, in different places and other people, that we've all heard from meetings in different counties, in different towns. And we know that they've told us different things. And I don't know if they're all false, but they seem to be leaning towards benefit rather than safety. And that is one of our main concerns is safety."
"Our legislature should be standing up. Our county governments need to stand up," said Doyle Turner, another Iowan fighting against the installation of these pipelines. "But the big thing that we need is for more people to realize this affects a lot more people than just these landowners and that we all need to be stepping up and talking to our county board of supervisors. We need to be talking to our state legislators. We need to talk to our federal legislators."
THE PIPELINE DISCUSSION REACHES STATE CAPITOLS AND THE COURTS
Many legislators are on board with carbon sequestration. "It's value-added agriculture and it's adding value for the farmers," said Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen at a Siouxland Ethanol event in March 2023. "We raise an incredibly low carbon footprint corn but also the sequestration to be able to sell our ethanol to the markets we're able to capture more value.
"Sequestration is really critical whether we're piping it or whether it's a formation that is close to a plant," Pillen said. "Both have to happen, they are both safe. They are critical to energy independence."
But questions arise about using eminent domain to make these projects happen, which is where much of the debate has happened in legislatures across the Midwest.
"The use of eminent domain is a last resort scenario, especially on a project like this," said Nebraska Representative Adrian Smith. "Ultimately, it's an infrastructure project and there's been some misinformation out there in terms of what the pipelines do. It's actually the safest way to transport products. All things considered, it's my hope that the right of way can be achieved and accomplished without the use of eminent domain."
Both Summit and Navigator are taking the fight over property rights to court. In Woodbury County, Vicki Hulse is fighting to keep Navigator land surveyors off of her property. Her 151 acres of land are something she holds with pride.
"We have worked hard to pay for our land," Hulse told me during an interview at the Siouxland News studios in September 2022. "We bought the farm from his dad's estate, and he worked two jobs. I work two jobs to pay for this farm. And we have two children that we want to hand the farm down to. And I'm fighting against eminent domain for private gain."
In March 2023, Hulse and Navigator presented their cases in Woodbury County Court where they now await a judge's ruling on separate injunctions for access to Hulse's land.
In spite of the resistance, Summit, Navigator, and Wolf are pushing forward with the goal of changing the CO2 landscape in the Midwest.
"I believe it's a big part of the future of the family farms and the next generation," said Cleveland with Lincolnway Energy.
FOLLOW FOR MORE
"Along the Route: A Pipeline Discussion" is a multi-part series of reports looking at everything from the companies that want to build them to those "for" and those "against" and a deeper dive into to carbon and ethanol industries at the center of the project.
Over the next several weeks, Siouxland News Anchor Katie Copple will be sharing a series of stories, which you will find linked below as they air every Tuesday and Wednesday evening on Siouxland News at 9 on FOX and Siouxland News at 10 on CBS.
Bookmark this story here to find the entire series as it airs on Siouxland News.
Follow Siouxland News Anchor Katie Copple on Facebook for the latest on the pipeline projects.
Have a pipeline story you want to share? Send Katie an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.