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CO2 Pipelines and Ethanol – Entropy Factories

By May 16, 2023Energy Rant
Image shows graphic of clouds, trees and a factory with text "CO2 Pipelines and Ethanol- Entropy Factories"

Now and then, a seemingly dumb idea flies through my neocortex like a bat at dusk. Bats have Mr. Magoovian eyesight and rely on radar technology to catch bugs. They are silent in flight. A few weeks ago, one such metaphorical flying rodent got too close for me to ignore. That bat was carbon dioxide pipelines used to sequester CO2. This could be the dumbest idea I have investigated.

The pipeline would carry liquid CO2 from ethanol, fertilizer, and “other agricultural industrial plants” from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, to be sequestered under North Dakota or Illinois. Developers have different locations for sequestration. The map below is from Summit Carbon Solutions. Let’s look at a list of ironies and signals from this project.

Image shows map of the proposed carbon dioxide pipelines to sequester CO2.Irony #1 CO2 May be Used to Extract Fossil Fuels

The Energy and Environmental Research Center, an arm of the University of North Dakota, states, “CO2 extraction studies indicate that CO2 can remove over 90% of hydrocarbons from Bakken reservoir rocks and over 60% from Bakken shales in small-scale experiments.” Notice the spin. Another way to say it: We can sequester CO2 while extracting over 90% of the fossil fuels in the Bakken Formation.

Irony #2 CO2 Used for Fossil Fuel Extraction Comes from Underground Deposits

Ok. What is the CO2 balance going into the ground for extraction and sequestration v the CO2 equivalent of fossil fuels coming out of the ground? Per the International Energy Agency, the myopic balance is 1:1. By myopic, I mean if one ignores the origin of the CO2. The IEA says most CO2 used for “enhanced oil recovery,” or OER, is extracted from underground deposits. Oil companies drill for sequestered CO2 to extract and resequester CO2 for zero net CO2 sequestration. I.e., CO2 is extracted from the ground to pump back into the ground for hydrocarbon energy, which adds CO2 to the environment.

A digression: North Dakota claims to have CO2 sequestration capacity for 50 years of all CO2 emissions from the United States. I wonder whether by then, Ford Motor Company can produce electric vehicles at a net loss per vehicle ($66,000) that is less than the cost of a new Mercedes E 350 4MATIC sedan (E ≠ electric).

Irony #3 Ethanol Can’t Find A Problem

Corn-based ethanol is a solution in search of a problem. If you don’t believe that, I will prove it right here. Problem #1: Ethanol would alleviate oil shortages. One fear of the energy crisis of the 1970s was that we would run out of oil and natural gas. Those were the hey-days of coal and nuclear power plant construction. Corn-based ethanol fanatics claimed we needed ethanol to displace petroleum.

Once technology proved we didn’t have oil and natural gas shortages, the second solution in search of a problem is that ethanol would give us energy independence. Well, in 2019, the United States became a net exporter of petroleum, not because of ethanol.

Today, it seems everyone has lost interest in ethanol. It flies beneath bat radar, not even getting occasional attention from the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal, which had pilloried the concept for decades. The latest benefit of ethanol, the solution to problem #3, is that it is renewable.

Irony #4 EEE is for Ethanol Equals Entropy, Part 1

Ten years ago, we posted a blog on the net energy balance in ethanol production. The energy required to make ethanol includes the requirements for corn production, drying, storage, transportation, fertilizer, water, and ethanol plant energy consumption. Ethanol is a massive entropy producer. What is entropy? In a word, waste, chaos, and disorder. Ok, that’s three words. The results of the 2013 analysis provided below show the ratio of energy made available divided by the energy to produce it. This is also known as energy return on investment, or EROI.

To vastly increase EROI, we should burn the corn in a thermal power plant or pellet stoves, which folks already do, rather than wasting gobs of energy producing entropy and little ethanol.

Image shows graph of the fuel price ratio compared to the energy ratio for Ethanol, Solid Week and Corn Direct.Irony #5 EEE is for Ethanol Equals Entropy, Part 2

Per EEE Part 1, ethanol is a horrific waste of resources: corn (food), land, water, etc. Let us note that all the CO2 to be captured comes from ethanol and fertilizer plants. What is fertilizer for? Growing corn to make ethanol.

The energy required to liquefy CO2 is enormous. At 55F ground temperature of a pipeline, the boiling point for CO2 is about 700 psi. Therefore, CO2 must be compressed to at least 700 psi to condense it into a liquid with heat rejection using more electricity.

If a rational person from, say, Florida or Arizona was to step back and look at this, they would say this is the dumbest and most wasteful disposal of valuable resources ever concocted. Remind me – why do we need ethanol again? There is no sound economic, environmental, or security reason.

Irony #6 Who Needs Ethanol or Gasoline

Per last week’s post, the EPA has a mandate that would have two-thirds of light vehicle sales be electric by 2032 (somebody should tell Ford because they can’t break even in less than $120,000 per EV – see above). Assume that fantasy would come true. In that case, who needs ethanol, gasoline, or fertilizer – creating the fake demand for these CO2 pipelines? Nobody believes in fantasy, but I believe in scams and lawmakers’ inability to spot and stop them.

Irony #7 A Motley Crew of Opposition

A motley crew of conservatives and environmentalists oppose the CO2 capture solution to a manufactured problem. There is vast wailing and gnashing of teeth over eminent domain for these colossal wastes of money and resources. Check out a few examples from The Des Moines Register, The Guardian, E&E News, and especially Food and Water Watch.

I believe in building worthwhile things. I do not believe in entropy creation or waste to make a buck like the political hacks and giant corporations behind this scam.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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