Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
A company backed by BlackRock has abandoned plans to build a 1,300-mile pipeline across the US Midwest to collect and store carbon emissions from the corn ethanol industry following opposition from landowners and some environmental campaigners.
Navigator CO₂ on Friday said developing its carbon capture and storage (CCS) project called Heartland Greenway had been “challenging” because of the unpredictable nature of regulatory and government processes in South Dakota and Iowa.
Navigator’s decision to scrap its flagship $3.1bn project — one of the biggest of its kind in the US — is a blow for a fledgling industry that is an important part of President Joe Biden’s climate strategy. CCS projects attempt to lock carbon underground for decades, preventing it from adding to heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
It also represents a setback for the carbon-intensive corn ethanol refining industry, a pillar of the rural Midwestern economy which is targeting industry-scale CCS as a way to reduce emissions.
Navigator’s project would have laid pipelines across five US states — South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois — to collect CO₂ from ethanol and fertiliser plants and pipe the gas to an underground storage site in Illinois.
It was backed by several deep-pocketed investors, including BlackRock, US oil refiner Valero Energy and Poet, a top US biofuel refiner.
Matt Vining, Navigator’s chief executive, said: “As good stewards of capital and responsible managers of people, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the Heartland Greenway project.”
Heartland Greenway is part of a wave of CCS projects aiming to tap into billions of dollars in tax breaks available under the Inflation Reduction Act, the landmark climate law signed by Biden last year. The incentives aim to help companies build carbon capture infrastructure, which has not yet proven it is commercially viable on a large scale.
The project faced opposition from local landowners, who expressed concerns about safety and property seizures, and some environmentalists who describe CO₂ pipelines as dangerous and a way to prop up the fossil fuels industry, which already has a network of such infrastructure.
Addressing the decision by Navigator, the Coalition To Stop CO₂ Pipelines said it “celebrates this victory”, but added: “we also know that the tax incentives made available by the federal government for carbon capture, transport and storage likely mean another entity will pick up Navigator’s project, or find a different route through Illinois”.
The Renewable Fuels Association, a lobby group for the ethanol industry, said it was disappointed by Navigator’s decision but would continue to pursue a goal of producing ethanol with net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
Geoff Cooper, chief executive of the Renewable Fuels Association, said: “We will continue working with the agricultural community to emphasise the vital importance of [carbon capture] to the future of both the renewable fuels industry and rural America.”
Summit Carbon Solutions, which is planning to build an even larger CO₂ pipeline network throughout the Midwest, said this week that its project will not now become operational until early 2026 because of permitting issues. It was initially planned to become operational in 2024.
Peter Findlay, analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said opposition by landowners and campaigners was a headwind for CCS pipeline projects, particularly given their length and the fact they cut across several states with different permitting regimes.
He said Summit’s project could benefit from the cancellation of Navigator’s pipeline as many of the ethanol plants initially contracted to this project could now approach Summit, or another rival project proposed by Wolf Carbon Solutions.