Q&A with Scott McDonald
Director, biofuels development
ADM is participating in two major research studies in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and other organizations to determine whether carbon dioxide generated by industrial processes can be trapped and stored permanently in underground rock formations, rather than being released into the atmosphere. What is the value of these studies from the company’s standpoint, and from a global environmental perspective?
Ultimately, these two projects could enable us to make a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions at our Decatur, Illinois, processing complex. More broadly, though, our company’s concept of sustainability and environmental responsibility has prompted us to look at technologies that could help reduce both our own carbon footprint and those of other large industrial operations. It’s a chance to be part of innovative research with significant implications for industry and the environment.
Could you describe the two projects, and the objectives of each?
The first project—known as the Illinois Basin-Decatur project— is intended to confirm that the saline-water-bearing Mount Simon Sandstone rock formation that runs underneath our Decatur, Illinois, complex is a good target for geologic carbon sequestration. The injection phase of the IBD project is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2011 and is slated to last about three years. The plan during this period is to sequester a total of 1 million metric tons of CO2 at a depth of about 7,000 feet.
The second project, known as the Illinois-Industrial Carbon Capture & Sequestration project (IL-ICCS), is designed to demonstrate the ability to sequester large, commercial-scale volumes of carbon dioxide within the Mount Simon formation. This past August, we moved into the construction phase of the IL-ICCS project, in which the partners are building a 2,000-metric-ton-per-day compression and dehydration facility and a transmission line capable of transporting the carbon dioxide to a sequestration and monitoring site. We expect CO2 injection to begin in the third quarter of 2013.
During the IL-ICCS project’s first year of operation, both projects will be operational and injecting carbon dioxide simultaneously — at two different well sites — at a combined rate of about 3,000 tons per day. For a sense of scale, bear in mind that some large power plants can emit about 14,000 to 15,000 tons of CO2 per day. Sequestering volumes of that magnitude necessarily requires a site with multiple injection wells, and these Decatur projects represent the first time that this type of capture and storage in a saline formation has been developed and studied anywhere in the world at a single site.
What would a successful outcome in these two projects look like?
Success, to me, would be a validation of the economic viability of carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, at a biofuels production facility—specifically, an ethanol plant. CCS deployment at large industrial facilities could represent one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the world community wants to do something about CO2 emissions, demonstrating the viability of geologic carbon sequestration at these large facilities would represent an important step in this direction.
Is there a sense that carbon capture and sequestration could represent a partial solution to the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide?
I think most of us in the scientific community view CCS as a kind of bridge that can help address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions until new technologies are developed that release us from utilizing fossil fuels. Until we develop that technology or portfolio of technologies, we need something to combat CO2 emissions. And CCS may be part of the solution. That’s what we hope to help determine through our participation in these projects.
Scott McDonald joined ADM in 2007 after spending more than a decade in the petroleum refining industry in various commercial, engineering, and operations roles. In his current position, he identifies and develops projects and applications with the potential to expand the use of biofuels and bio-based products in the global marketplace. As part of this role, he serves as project director of the Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Sequestration Project, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.