CCS technology – smaller pieces of Canada’s big green puzzle

March 30, 2009  

While some are still puzzled by carbon capture and storage (CCS), increased funding is allowing industry to test various pieces of the technology in order to get a clearer view of the big, emissions-reducing picture. Various projects underway throughout Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan represent a broad spectrum of CCS applications and, this week, after receiving funding from Natural Resources Canada, eight of them got a little closer to realizing their vision.

On March 26, the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources, came to Alberta to announce a government investment of $140 million towards eight CCS projects chosen out of 39 proposals submitted last year for the $230-million ecoENERGY Technology initiative.

The eight winning proposals were selected to represent an array of different CCS approaches, from CO2 storage in geologic formations to using CO2 in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects. According to Raitt, each proposal demonstrated a different, complementary piece in the greater challenge of bringing CCS to wide-scale commercial use.

Understanding the viability of capturing and storing carbon emissions was a particular topic of concern in 2008 when the Alberta government announced it would invest $2 billion toward CCS technology. Concerns ranged from the feasibility of implementing such an expensive technology on a mass scale, to the environmental impacts of burying CO2 without getting to the root of problem and reducing fossil fuel use all together.

“I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of this technology,” said Raitt during Thursday’s announcement at Calgary’s SAIT Polytechnic. “We can’t turn our backs on the energy and the wealth that our fossil fuels generate, but we have the responsibility to make sure it is generated sustainably.”

The investments were also touted as a supporting initiative to Canada’s Economic Action Plan, which will include $2.4 billion worth of new measures to support Canada’s climate change objectives.

“While we’re doing better than a lot of others, we’re certainly not immune,” said Raitt, of Canada’s economy as it compares to the rest of the world. Raitt was forthright in her belief that Canada’s robust fossil fuel sector is largely responsible for Canada’s more salubrious economic position on the global stage.

“Without energy, economies do not grow. They don’t even move… we’re still far from replacing the energy fossil fuels provide [so] we need to find a cleaner way to produce it and consume it.”

Successful proposals were submitted by partnerships led or co-led by ARC Resources, Enhance Energy, Spectra Energy Transmission, TransCanada, TransAlta, Husky, Enbridge and EPCOR. Each of the projects will receive between $3 million and $30 million of federal money, but Raitt stressed the federal funding is only one part of the larger equation. “We need to have collaboration between governments and between government and industry,” Raitt said.

Among the eight winning companies present at the announcement was Alberta’s Enhance Energy Inc. whose project proposes to capture CO2 from a large fertilizer plant as well as an oil sands upgrading operation. The CO2 would then be transported and injected into mature oil reservoirs in central Alberta for EOR and permanent sequestration.

“The funding will allow us to accelerate implementation of the project,” explained company president and engineer Susan Cole, adding that the Alberta Industrial Heartland based project, has been in the working for four years. “The added financial support will allow the company to bring this initiative to commercialization faster,” said Cole. (diagram above: Enhance Energy)

To date, the most notable example of CO2 being used for EOR, is Saskatchwan’s Weyburn-Midale CO2 project in southeastern Saskatchewan, which is home to a depleted oil reservoir containing deep underground rock formations called saline aquifers. Transported via pipeline from a plant in Beulah North Dakota, pure streams of CO2 left over from the coal gasification process are injected into these underground formations to increase the recovery rates of sticky, stubborn oil in hard to reach places.

So how does Enhance Energy’s project complement projects already using CO2 for EOR? According to Cole, it will demonstrate the feasibility of a single network to collect CO2 from a large number of industrial emitters. It is projected that within five years, this project could capture and sequester up to 1.9 megatonnes of CO2 annually, equal to taking 358,000 cars off the road each year.

“Each of the projects really is quite different,” said Doug Bloom, President of Spectra Energy Transmission West. The company’s Fort Nelson, B.C. project presents yet another challenge of CCS technology – testing the injection of sour CO2 into these deep saline formations for permanent storage. “In our case, we’re a natural gas pipeline. Raw natural gas contains high levels of CO2 and sulphur dioxide and we want to test the feasibility of permanently storing it in deep underground formations.”

As various parts of the CCS puzzle come into sharper focus, industry and governments across the world remain aware that the technology represents only one part of the even larger puzzle of environmental sustainability. As one environmentalist said in an earlier FLOW article about CCS technology, “there is no one green bullet.”

When asked by one reporter if Canada has a “plan B” for meeting reduction targets, Raitt replied that she doesn’t view CCS support in terms of a plan A or a plan B, calling it a scientifically viable solution in fossil fuel emissions mitigation. “We’re well on our way,” said Raitt adding that the ecoENERGY Technology initiative includes funding research on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The funding announcement also coincided with the province of Alberta being recognized for its great strides in CCS research by The Aspen Institute, a U.S. energy and environment organization. The Aspen Institute awards recognize organizations for excellence in innovation, implementation and communication of energy and environmental solutions.