Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.
A Gevo official confirmed on February 2 that the company expects to use 300 million gallons of water per year, or 700 gallons per minute, at its planned Lake Preston, South Dakota Net-Zero 1 (NZ1) plant and an adjacent green hydrogen facility known as the Dakota Renewable Hydrogen (DRH) Project.
When asked if the water use estimate provided was for the NZ1 plant, the DRH plant, or both, Heather Manuel, vice president of corporate communications for Gevo, replied, “Both – we have an agreement with Kingbrook Rural Water for our water supply and do not require a permit.”
On February 6, 2023, Summit Carbon Solutions announced its partnership with Colorado-based Gevo, although that arrangement is not yet reflected on the South Dakota pipeline route. Sabrina Zenor, director of stakeholder engagement and corporate communications for Summit, stated on January 25 that Gevo would be added to the proposed CO2 pipeline route when the company resubmits its application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The commission denied Summit’s initial application last September.
Bleeding Heartland sought clarification from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture & Natural Resources on whether the Kingbrook Rural Water System would be required to obtain a water use permit on behalf of Gevo. According to the Department of Agriculture & Natural Resources’ website, “If supplied by a water distribution system using more than 18 gallons per minute, the water distribution system needs to obtain a water right permit on behalf of the system water users.”
Based upon this language, Kingbrook may not be required to obtain a separate water use permit from the state on behalf of Gevo, despite the company’s planned use of 300 million gallons of water per year. Dana Munyon, public affairs specialist for the Department, responded as follows on February 5:
Currently, DANR has not issued any water-related permits to Gevo. If the proposed Gevo plant operated its own water system (groundwater or surface water) to supply its industrial use needs, a water right permit would be required. DANR does not have a water right permit application from Kingbrook Rural Water System (RWS) at this time.
DANR issued an Air Quality construction permit for Gevo last year.
UPDATE: Munyon provided additional clarification on February 7 regarding Kingbrook Rural Water System’s obligations in supplying the Gevo NZ1 plant with 300 million gallons of water per year. “Whether Kingbrook Rural Water System (RWS) needs additional water rights to supply Gevo depends on if Kingbrook RWS has sufficient capacity within their currently authorized water rights and infrastructure to meet Gevo’s water needs,” Munyon wrote via email.
Munyon also provided a copy of Gevo’s air quality construction permit, which took effect January 17, 2023. That permit appears below:
Gevo’s arrangement with Kingbrook underscores a little-explored facet of the water issues facing the Midwest: rural water systems. In northwest Iowa, for example, the Osceola County Rural Water System has repeatedly pumped the Ocheyedan River dry in its quest to serve rural customers, according to an October 6, 2023, article by Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter Jared Strong. A search of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ animal feeding operation website identified 226 facilities in Osceola County alone.
Last December, Bleeding Heartland reported on the water crisis in the city of Osceola and Southern Iowa Rural Water Association’s reliance on Osceola Water Works to supply water to livestock operations in rural Clarke County, which is in south central Iowa.
AVIATION FUEL: YET ANOTHER WATER-INTENSIVE INDUSTRY
According to Manuel, Gevo anticipates that it will need 38 million bushels of corn each year to produce some 65 million gallons of aviation fuel and alternative forms of gasoline and blendstock on an annual basis. The plant, which has not yet been built, is also expected to produce 695,000 tons of animal feed per year, as well as approximately 34 million pounds of corn oil. Under a joint agreement with LG Chem, an arm of South Korean chaebol LG Corp., Gevo will also develop bio-propylene for renewable chemicals and plastics using the company’s ethanol-to-olefins technology.
The DRH plant will be capable of producing eight tons of hydrogen a day according to a November 3, 2023, press release issued by Accelera by Cummins, which is providing the electrolyzer technology for the 20-megawatt facility. “In terms of hydrogen production, while our capacity can reach a peak of 8 tons per day, our actual usage remains more conservative,” Manuel explained in a January 29 email. “We anticipate utilizing 6 tons daily in the final stage/finishing process, where hydrogen reacts with hydrocarbons to reduce olefin content in the SAF, ensuring it meets specifications.” Manuel further stated that Gevo may sell excess hydrogen to third parties.
The figures provide a glimpse into the water-intensive processes associated with aviation fuel production. As previously reported, during a December 20, 2023, BEK TV presentation on the Summit Carbon pipeline, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum stated, “Sustainable aviation fuel, if you want to call it the Saudi Arabia of sustainable aviation fuel, it’s going to happen somewhere between North Dakota and Iowa and in between, the corn belt.”
It is not clear how Burgum arrived at the decision to declare the heartland the “Saudi Arabia” of aviation fuel. Perhaps the decision was made over dinner with former business associate and campaign contributor Bill Gates, whose Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund is heavily invested in CO2 venture capital projects in the U.S., including companies such as Twelve and Dimensional Energy, which manufacture aviation fuel from CO2.
In response to this article, Microsoft stated the following via email: “We would simply like to correct that the Climate Innovation Fund is an investment initiative through Microsoft (not Bill Gates) to accelerate technology development and deployment of new climate innovations through equity and debt capital.”
According to a February 6, 2023, Forbes article, Gates spent 10 percent of his time at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington as an advisor at the time of that story’s publication. It is not known if this arrangement is still in place, as well as how Gates is or was compensated for his work at Microsoft.
Gates’ organization, Breakthrough Energy, which has both a catalyst and a venture capital arm, received a $100 million grant from Microsoft in 2021. Microsoft is also listed as a Breakthrough Catalyst direct capital partner on the organization’s website. Bleeding Heartland asked Microsoft how much money it has donated to Breakthrough since its founding. To date, Microsoft has not responded to this question.
The Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund and Breakthrough Energy have invested in several of the same companies, including Boston Metal, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinout that has “developed a new way of making clean steel” according to a January 27, 2023, CNBC article.
Bleeding Heartland asked Microsoft if either the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund or Breakthrough has invested in a recently announced pig iron plant in North Dakota through an entity named Scranton Holding Co./North American Iron, Inc., which has received a total of $10 million in state funding according to a February 8, 2024, North Dakota Monitor article. The article identified pig iron as a “precursor to steel” and quoted North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum as follows: “We could end up with a steel plant in North Dakota if we get this pig iron thing going.” Microsoft did not respond to this question and referred questions regarding Breakthrough to that company.
Whatever the case, the heavy concentration of biofuels production plants in Iowa, coupled with the massive number of underregulated animal feeding operations, poses a considerable threat to the people of this state. That is because, as previously reported, we are in a protracted drought, and what little water we have left is polluted, primarily by synthetic nitrates and manure, according to a May 25, 2023 article by Keith Schneider for Circle of Blue.
On January 29, Summit announced its partnership with Sioux Falls-based POET, raising the number of CO2 pipeline partners in Iowa from thirteen to 25. Using estimates provided by Summit Carbon chief operating officer James “Jimmy” Powell during his September 5, 2023, testimony, Bleeding Heartland previously calculated that Summit’s thirteen ethanol plant partners in Iowa would need to withdraw more than 478 million gallons per year for carbon capture alone. Adding twelve POET facilities may well double that estimate.
In addition to the push to produce billions of gallons of aviation fuel, soybean crushing plants have been announced throughout the Midwest in recent years. One such plant, Platinum Crush, LLC, which is under construction in Alta, received a water use permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Water Allocation Compliance and Online Permitting (WACOP) program in September 2023. The permit grants the facility the right to withdraw 189.20 million gallons of water per year, at 650 gallons per minute, from the already depleted Jordan aquifer.
The plant, which is expected to be operational this spring, will crush 38.5 million bushels of soybeans each year. According to the Platinum Crush website, much of the 450 million pounds of crude soybean oil produced may be used in the “rapidly expanding, renewable diesel bioenergy segment.” This will lead to even more water use.
The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association lists eleven biodiesel plants in the state on its website. A water permit search on the DNR’s WACOP permitting website for one of these plants, the Ag Processing Inc. site in Sergeant Bluff, revealed that this facility alone is permitted to withdraw up to 12,400 acre feet of water per year, at 7,700 gallons per minute, from an alluvial aquifer. That is more than 4 billion gallons of water per year. It is not known why this site is permitted to withdraw such a massive amount of water.
In terms of ethanol production, Pine Lake Corn Processors, LLC in Hardin County, which is a Summit Carbon partner, is approved to withdraw 320 million gallons per year, or 1,070 gallons per minute, from the Mississippian aquifer.
On February 1, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association announced that ethanol production in Iowa reached a record 4.6 billion gallons in 2023. The Association announced on February 2 that biodiesel production in Iowa remained steady at 350 million gallons in 2023.
END NOTE: THE DANGERS OF SENATE FILE 411
On January 25, Bleeding Heartland asked Sabrina Zenor, Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Corporate Communications for Summit Carbon, if Mountain Ventures, LLP (there are two iterations of this LLP on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website), Blue Mountain Ventures, LLC, and Ridge Road Investments, LLC (there are two iterations of this LLC) were “formed for the purpose of manufacturing green hydrogen, green methanol, or some other form of sustainable aviation fuel using CO2 from the proposed Summit Carbon pipeline.” Bleeding Heartland outlined the structure of these firms, which are associated with Summit Agricultural Group, last November.
To date, Summit Carbon has not responded to this question.
As previously reported, Mountain Ventures, LLP purchased a confined animal feeding operation in Kossuth County in 2021. This and other Summit-affiliated businesses have drilled thirteen new water wells in Kossuth County since July 2021. However, other Summit hog facilities in Kossuth County identified by Bleeding Heartland are named Summit Pork. That is what prompted the question regarding Mountain Ventures, which is adjacent to the proposed pipeline route.
Senate File 411, proposed by Senate Commerce Committee chair Waylon Brown, seeks to amend Iowa Code chapters 331 and 364. It would prohibit “a county or city from adopting an ordinance, motion, resolution, or amendment that limits consumer access to an energy source or that results in the de facto prohibition of the sale or production of an energy source or the related infrastructure necessary to provide consumer access to a specific energy source within the jurisdiction of the county or city. The bill defines ‘energy source.’” (emphasis added)
The bill defines “energy source” as follows:
NEW SUBSECTION. 22. a. For purposes of this subsection, “energy source” means any fuel or power source used to power an engine, including but not limited to aviation fuel, biofuel, compressed or liquefied natural gas, diesel fuel including renewable diesel and biodiesel blended fuel, electricity used for charging electric vehicles, gasoline including ethanol blended gasoline, gas distillates, hydrogen, and liquefied petroleum gas.
Under Senate File 411, it appears that both cities and counties in Iowa would be restricted in governing entities that seek to manufacture the fuels listed above, among other energy sources. If the bill is passed and a firm such as Mountain Ventures or another like it decides to enter the fuel industry and is able to rezone a property, it seems possible that it could then begin to produce any of these fuels. It also appears that under this bill, only the state would have the power to govern such businesses, potentially including water use.