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Canadian Carbon Capture Project Could Allow for Cleaner Utilization of Fossil Fuels

The Boundary Dam is a first-of-its-kind carbon capture project and could reduce the coal-fired plant's emissions by 90 percent.

Today, the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project was launched at a coal-fired power plant in Canada. The project is being closely watched, as it’s expected to reduce the plants carbon emissions by 90 percent.

The CCS unit is at the Boundary Dam power plant in Estevan, Saskatchewan and was formally commissioned after a 4-year, $1.21 billion retrofit. According to the CCS’s installer, SaskPower, the unit is designed to reduce 1 million tons of the annual carbon dioxide emissions from the dam when it reaches full operating capacity later this year.

The majority of the carbon will be purchased by Cenovus Energy Inc., Canada’s second largest oil and gas producer. It will then in turn be used for enhanced oil recovery.

There are a lot of eyes trained on the project and various governments and industries are waiting to see if the project is a success.

There are plenty of voices already calling the project a success, as it’s being viewed as a way for companies reliant on fossil fuel generation a cleaner way to do business. Some are also viewing it as a working example of why they should invest in CCS technology.

“Finally, people cannot say that this is unproven technology,” Frederic Hauge, head of Norwegian environmental group Bellona, said. “It will be much harder to reach climate targets without CCS. We shouldn't take the chance that we can combat global warming without CCS.”

Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, believes that this is answer the industry has been looking for.

“CCS is the only known technology that will enable us to continue to use fossil fuels and also de-carbonize the energy sector,” she said. “As fossil fuel consumption is expected to continue for decades, deployment of CCS is essential.”

Of course, not everyone is so convinced it’s the right solution.

The Sierra Club of Canada is critical of the usage of carbon captured for enhanced oil recovery.

“It's a propaganda move to appear to be taking action on climate change when in reality it is actually furthering the interests of oil,” John Bennett, Sierra Club Canada Executive Director, said.

Beyond environmental concerns, there are those who are worried about the high costs of a CCS being a barrier to their further implementation.

“Boundary Dam Unit #3 [the plant fitted with the CCS] has cost much more than the U.S. $350 million typical for an advanced coal-fired plant of its size, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration,” John Kemp, market analyst at Reuters, writes. “First-of-a-kind (FOAK) systems are always expensive, but widespread commercial deployment will depend on getting CCS costs down by harnessing what is learned from such projects.”

And that, of course, is exactly what SaskPower is hoping for.

“Carbon capture and storage technology is still being researched and perfected,” Tyler Hopson, a SaskPower spokesman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “SaskPower has already learned from our experience at Boundary Dam Power Station and we can safely say that we could build a second carbon capture project on a coal plant for less.”

When and where that happens remains to be seen.  

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