While some see carbon capture and storage as akin to sweeping CO2 emissions under the carpet, others believe it is a necessary short-term solution in the transition to a clean energy future. Last week, ground was broken on construction of the U.S.'s first large-scale industrial carbon capture and storage (ICCS) facility that aims to demonstrate that CO2 emissions can be stored permanently in deep underground rock formations.

The facility being built in Decatur, Illinois, is designed to capture and store approximately 2,500 metric tons of CO2 per day in the saline Mount Simon Sandstone formation at depths of around 7,000 feet (2,133 m). Researchers estimate that the sandstone formation has the potential to store billions of tons of CO2 and has the overall potential to sequester all of the more than 250 million tons of CO2 produced each year by industry in the Illinois Basin region.

The CO2 to be sequestered is a byproduct of processing corn into fuel-grade ethanol at a biofuels plant adjacent to the storage site run by Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), which is leading the project as part of the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium (MGSC). All of the captured CO2 will be produced by biologic fermentation and will give the facility a negative carbon footprint.

Drilling of an injection well at the 207-acre project site began in February 2009 and last week's ceremonial groundbreaking and marked the next step of the project, which will see a CO2 dehydration/compression facility constructed near the biofuels plant along with a 3,200-foot-long (975 m) pipeline that will transport the CO2 to the well. Carbon capture and storage operations are due to commence in late summer 2013.

The ADM team, which includes Schlumberger Carbon Services, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and Richland Community College, was selected in October 2009 by the DoE to conduct one of 12 projects in Phase 1 of its ICCS program. The DoE then selected it as one of three projects to receive continued Phase 2 funding in June 2010. The project is managed by the DoE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, which received US$141 million in Recovery Act funding and another $65.5 million private sector cost-sharing.

"Illinois is at the forefront of helping ensure the U.S. remains competitive in the global clean energy economy, creating new jobs while reducing carbon pollution," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "This first of its kind project will bring jobs to Illinois while advancing technology that the United States can sell around the world."

The project will also see the formation of an educational and training facility called the National Sequestration Education Center, which is slated to be housed at nearby Richland Community College in Decatur. The center will contain classrooms, training, and laboratory facilities, and will offer students associate degrees in sequestration technology.