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. ■

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China and Australia collaborating on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology

CCS pilot plant at Shenhua Group coal mining site in Ordos, China. Photo: Wu-Hong.

CCS pilot plant at Shenhua Group coal mining site in Ordos, China. Photo: Wu-Hong.

Collaboration between Australia and China on carbon capture and storage (CCS) is highlighted in a 19 November 2013 article on the Geoscience Australia website, focusing on the China Australia Geological Storage (CAGS) Project.

As this article explains, beginning in 2009 and concluding in mid-2012, CAGS Phase I was developed and supported with an allocation of A$2.86 million by the Australian government in accordance with the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. “The project focused on capacity building in the area of geological storage of CO2 in both China and Australia.”

The article notes that many of the materials generated through the CAGS project, “including educational material, are available for download through the CAGS website.”

According to this report, in addition to a variety of research studies and academic activities, CAGS Phase 1 also completed “Three successful research projects within China focusing on storage site characterisation, storage with enhanced oil recovery, and risk management for storage which have produced outputs such as criteria for storage site evaluation and advice regarding the development of a risk assessment and regulatory regime for CO2 storage in China”.

In mid-2012 a second phase of the project (CAGS Phase II) began, via funding approved under the Australia-China Joint Co-ordination Group on Clean Coal Technology. This phase will conclude sometime in 2014 “building on the relationships and work completed in the project’s first phase.”

Altogether, this cooperative project seems an encouraging step toward advancing the development of CCS technology, particularly in China and Australia.