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How CO2 from Ethanol Can Help Twelve Unlock Carbon Transformation

Partnerships between ethanol producers and carbon transformation companies like Twelve unlock new value and accelerate SAF production.

By: Youssef Tazi


Twelve’s innovative carbon transformation process relies solely on CO2, water and renewable electricity to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and other low-carbon chemicals via CO2 electrolysis. The question is, where do we source the CO2 from?

While we have evaluated and continue to pursue a variety of sources, generally Twelve focuses on CO2 sources that are: 

1) High purity, reducing capture and purification input costs

2) Located in or near areas of low-cost renewable energy

3) Biogenic, or derived from biomass that pulled the carbon out of the air

One industrial process that checks all three of these boxes is ethanol production which offers unique partnership opportunities for carbon transformation companies like Twelve. 

The CO2 from ethanol production can be transformed by Twelve's technology into chemicals for fuels and materials.

Ethanol is produced from the fermentation of sugars contained in crops, and in the United States, is mostly derived from corn. One bushel of corn grain yields equal parts (⅓) ethanol, distillers grains (used as an animal feed or a source of renewable natural gas), and CO2. About 80% of ethanol plants today vent their CO2 to the atmosphere, thus missing the opportunity to valorize ⅓ of their feedstock output. Capturing CO2 is an additional cost for producers, which was historically only justified when there was a local market for it, but today new markets are growing. 

In the United States, 198 ethanol plants operate in 24 states and have created 70,000 direct jobs and four times as many indirect jobs. The consumption of ethanol in the U.S. has remained mostly flat for nearly ten years due to limitations on blending with gasoline, and the increased usage of electric vehicles. Demand from the aviation industry, however, is changing this. 

As the airlines and corporations drive toward their 2030 and 2050 emissions reduction goals, they are increasingly looking to fossil fuel alternatives. The demand for high-quality, low-carbon SAF is a critical opportunity for the CO2 from ethanol market. Indeed, the CO2 emitted during the fermentation process can be further transformed to SAF through multiple pathways: 

  1. The Power-to-Liquid (PtL) process 

  2. Ethanol can be further processed to SAF through the Alcohol-to-Jet (AtJ) fermentation process

This represents an important opportunity for Twelve and other SAF producers seeking to decarbonize the aviation industry, and for ethanol plants as they can play a major role in those decarbonization efforts, while creating a new source of revenue. Using the CO2 emissions from ethanol plants in the United States would allow for the production of 5B gallons per year of Twelve's Power-to-Liquid SAF E-Jet®, up from the current sustainable aviation fuel production levels of 130 M gallons per year. We look forward to partnering with the ethanol industry to seize this opportunity.

What we see on the ground: an increased interest in utilization and a quest to lower the CI score

The ethanol industry has been an early adopter of CO2 utilization. Many producers have formed partnerships with industrial gas companies to use the emitted CO2 for the food and beverage industry. Ethanol plants currently dominate the market as the primary suppliers of liquid CO2 and dry ice, boasting over 50% of the market share. Some facilities have adopted alternative uses for their CO2, such as enhanced oil recovery. 

Twelve has actively engaged with numerous ethanol producers and participated in various industry conferences over the past year. With the onset of novel carbon transformation and carbon utilization applications, we have witnessed a strong renewed enthusiasm towards those new pathways. In fact, ethanol plants are now looking to valorize their CO2 to produce green lubricant oils, green methanol or low carbon jet fuel. Visionary ethanol producers across the country such as Kansas Ethanol, Adkins Energy, and Red River Energy are leading the way, partnering up with new projects that will push the boundaries and create new sources of profits of traditional ethanol production.

Growing concerns surrounding opposition to carbon pipelines and sequestration projects make the new pathways increasingly attractive. Recent setbacks, such as the cancellation of Navigator and the postponement of Summit over permit denials, highlight the challenges faced by pipeline-dependent initiatives. Without access to these pipelines, numerous ethanol plants may face challenges in effectively and permanently storing the CO2 in geological formations. CO2 sequestration plays an important role for AtJ SAF, as it is considered the most efficient way to reach the 50% threshold currently needed to be eligible for SAF tax credits. 

Achieving that 50% threshold is also possible through comprehensive plant operations powered by renewable energy and renewable natural gas, and adopting eco-friendly crop cultivation methods. This combination  will help shape a path for AtJ and PtL processes to elegantly complement each other and result in larger volumes of low carbon SAF using CO2 that would otherwise be sequestered. Reaching aviation carbon reduction targets will be done through many SAF suppliers and will require a mix of the different production pathways.

Finding suitable CO2 partners is paramount for Twelve and collaborating with ethanol producers presents a mutually beneficial opportunity. The ethanol industry boasts high-quality CO2 and expertise in utilization. In turn, we provide a pathway where CO2 can be transformed into valuable products.


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