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A Denver-area firm got $30 million in investment in December and was preparing to announce a partnership with two ethanol plants in Colorado for carbon capture and storage. Then it went mum. Why?


by Allen Best

Might carbon capture be attempted at two ethanol plants in northeastern Colorado?

Carbon America, a company based in metropolitan Denver, issued an embargoed press release in early May that announced agreements with Sterling Ethanol and Yuma Ethanol to develop carbon capture that would store 95% of the carbon dioxide emissions per year from the fermentation processes at the two plants.

The release scheduled for May 12 publication said Carbon America would finance, build, own, and operate the carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, at the two plants. The CO₂ is to be transferred via new pipelines to be sequestered a mile underground at an unidentified site.

The projects, said the release, will be the first two commercial CCS projects in Colorado.

The company’s website says it has a mission of creating projects from ethanol, cement, and power plants across the United States.

Obviously, for Colorado to reach its mid-century carbon reduction goals, projects like this must go forward. Most of those who have deeply studied the future of energy believe that CCS, still a fringe player, must become viable.

“Projects like these will help the ethanol industry decarbonize and contribute to global emissions reductions needed to reach net-zero by 2050,” said Brent Lewis, the chief executive of Carbon America, in a press release.

The press release went on to say that the sequestration site is rigorously designed to comply with Federal Class VI and California Air Resource Board Low Carbon Fuel Standard permanency requirements, and Carbon America is working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and multiple Colorado regulatory agencies to ensure the project meets all environmental regulations. Carbon America expects the projects to be fully operational in 2024.

But what is the revenue stream—now or anticipated?

The statement about California suggests that credits available through that state’s market may be a consideration. Keep in mind that one of the funding partners for the project near Paonia that takes methane from a coal mine to create electricity has gained revenue from the California market.

Here, background may be useful. I was contacted in advance of the press release and asked if I wished to interview Brent Lewis, the chief executive of Carbon America. The company has an office about a mile from where Big Pivots is produced next to Sun Run, the solar company where Lewis had previously worked. This is in Arvada.

I said yes, and a Zoom conference was scheduled. Then the interview was cancelled by the PR handler with a request for other available times. Communication then ended. I inquired several times, but received no response.

Surely, the local papers carried the story – if there was a story. The Sterling Journal-Advocate website has had no mention.

Carbon America has an office in Arvada. Photo/Allen Best

I drove by the office location, and Carbon America signs are there.

What happened? I have no way of knowing. Had I been given an interview, I would have asked about the revenue stream.

Carbon America in December did announce $30 million in Series A funding had been secured. Among the five investors identified was Energy Impact Partners.

“Carbon capture technology has been around for a long time,” said Hans Kobler, the firm’s founder and managing partner in the announcement.

“What’s been missing is the ability to finance, build and operate carbon capture projects, at scale, in an efficient cost-effective way. We think Carbon America has cracked the code on how to deploy CCS projects at scale with their vertically integrated model backed by technical expertise and look forward to seeing emission reductions from these projects.”

Another investor was Canada Pension Plan, which manages investments for 20 million contributors and beneficiaries.

“As a long-term investor, we believe carbon capture will have an important role to play in the world’s transition to address climate change,” said Bruce Hogg, managing director of the Sustainable Energy Group of the pension group.


Top photo: grain bins and railroad tracks near the Yuma ethanol plant. Photo/Allen Best

Allen Best
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