Researchers gather in Saskatchewan to study world-leading carbon capture and storage facility
‘We can capture emissions and transport and store them permanently in the subsurface’
by James Snell
Canada’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry is an important tool in the global quest to reduce emissions, says an industry expert who was among 40 researchers who recently participated in a CCS summer school in Regina.
In July, Eadbhard Pernot, and colleagues from 29 countries participated in the International Energy Agency Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme CCS Summer School in Regina. The draw to Saskatchewan’s capital – the fourth such event – was the International CCS Knowledge Centre and an opportunity to obtain hands-on CCS experience with experts at SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Project near Estevan, Saskatchewan.
Canada has five of the world’s 30 commercial CCS operations, including at the coal-fired Boundary Dam Power Station. It’s the world’s first and only CCS facility operating in tandem with a commercial power plant – which has captured and stored over 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) since 2014.
“The lessons learned from the Boundary Dam facility are going to be really important for countries that have recently built coal power plants,” says Pernot, a policy manager with Boston-based Clean Air Task Force, which promotes zero-emissions technology and policies.
“The project has consistently performed at its capacity. And I think that’s really something Canada should be proud of.”
Summer school participants studied all aspect of CCS, including the capture, transportation and storage of CO2, industrial uses of CO2, costs and economic potential of CCS, regulations, policy and GHG accounting, public communication and health and safety.
“As far as storage, we’ve been injecting fluids and gases into the subsurface for decades,” says Eadbhard.
“So, the science is pretty clear in the sense that we can put all of these things together. We can capture emissions and transport and store them permanently in the subsurface.”
More CCS projects are being developed in Canada, including through Pathways Alliance, a group comprised of the six largest oil sands producers representing 95 per cent of production that plans to spend around $24 billion on a CCS network and other technologies to achieve net zero emissions in the oil sands by 2050.
The industry coalition has already begun design work on what will be the backbone of one the world’s largest CCS projects, a 400-kilometre pipeline connecting an initial 14 oil sands facilities to a storage hub in northern Alberta. The project is expected to remove up to 12 million tonnes of emissions annually by 2030.
Does CO2 stay underground once injected deep into geologic formations?
Yes, says Pernot, noting the gas originates in many subsurface structures – approximately 1.845 billion-billion tonnes of carbon are contained in Earth’s mantle and crust, while 43,500 billion tonnes are found at the surface.
“I think it’s also important to recognize that when we are talking about putting CO2 back in the ground, it’s not under someone’s house,” says Pernot.
“We are talking about depths between one and three kilometres. We’ve been injecting fluids and other gases for decades without any incident of leakage in terms of storage.”
Since 2000, Alberta and Saskatchewan have safely stored 47 million tonnes of emissions – the equivalent of removing 10 million cars from the road – says James Millar, CEO of the International CCS Knowledge Centre, noting Canada’s sector is an example to the world.
Canada accounts for approximately 15 per cent of current global CCS capacity even though it generates less than two per cent of global CO2 emissions, he says.
“We demand, and we rely on, these [oil and gas] products every day,” says Millar. “We don’t want to be without them. I’ve never heard anyone who is against CCS, say ‘I will go back to living in a cave and reading by lamplight and driving horses and buggies.’ Isn’t it better for industries that manufacture these products to do something about the issue?”
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