Boundary Dam carbon capture-storage (CCS) project heads toward startup in Saskatchewan

Boundary Dam power facility in Estevan, Saskatchewan, undergoing upgrade for CCS. Photo via GAP Inspection Services, Ltd.

Boundary Dam power facility in Estevan, Saskatchewan, undergoing upgrade for CCS. Photo via GAP Inspection Services, Ltd.

A major new installation of carbon capture-storage (CCS) technology is heading for startup in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration Project, located at its coal-fired power plant in Estevan, involves rebuilding the plant’s Unit #3 with a fully-integrated carbon capture and storage (CCS) system. According to the website of GAP Inspection Services, Ltd., which has been selected as Owners Inspector for SaskPower, “It will be the first commercial-scale power plant equipped with a fully-integrated CCS system.”

The project, also featured in a New York Times article focused on “Corralling Carbon Before It Belches From Stack“, represents another important step forward toward a sustainable source of electric power that minimizes carbon-rich greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the Times reports, “a gleaming new maze of pipes and tanks — topped with what looks like the Tin Man’s hat — will suck up 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from one of the boilers so it can be shipped out for burial, deep underground.”

The Boundary Dam power project comes in the context of recent restrictions placed by the Canadian government on both old and new coal plants. While CCS “is no magic bullet” says the article, the technology is seen as particularly crucial.

Carbon capture and storage is increasingly a component of global efforts to utilize fossil fuel resources prudently and reduce GHG emissions, while providing sufficient electric power on a sustainable basis to maintain modern civilization and improve living standards. As the article emphasizes,

If there is any hope of staving off the worst effects of climate change, many scientists say, this must be part of it — capturing the carbon that spews from power plants and locking it away, permanently. For now, they contend, the world is too dependent on fossil fuels to do anything less.

Currently, as the Times also notes, CCS technology has its drawbacks. Carbon extraction requires extra energy, and this reduces a facility’s net electricity production — “the whole point of its existence.”

Plus, CSS is currently a quite expensive technology. “Updating the Saskatchewan plant alone cost $1.2 billion — two-thirds of which went for the equipment to remove the gas” reports the Times.

And while the article warns that “There are basic questions of whether carbon dioxide can be safely stored underground”, it’s worth noting that considerable research and innovation efforts are focused on improving the competence of storage methods and developing efficient technology recycling the captured carbon effectively. ■