When the Boundary Dam coal plant in Saskatchewan opened the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage operation in 2014, it was supposed to save a million tonnes of carbon pollution each year.

Instead, seven years later, the $1.35-billion project — the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding — has captured just four million tonnes, according to an announcement last month by its operator, the provincial utility SaskPower.

SaskPower employees and others have shown in a research paper how the carbon-capture facility “experienced unforeseen operational challenges and design oversights,” which hurt its performance and reliability.

What’s more, the project has abandoned its original goal of capturing 90 per cent of the carbon pollution emitted, settling for just 65 per cent, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said in an April 20 briefing note.

“The carbon capture is not working as well as they expected,” said IEEFA’s David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis, in an interview Tuesday. “It’s clear they’ve had problems with the technology.”

Four million tonnes of carbon pollution is not nothing. It’s the equivalent, SaskPower has estimated, of a year’s worth of driving for a million passenger vehicles.

The utility has also learned from its mistakes, making “corrections and additions” to the facility, the research paper noted. Howard Matthews, SaskPower’s vice-president of power production, has said the project is “still finding improvements,” pointing out 2020 was the “second-best year to date.”

Still, the uneven progress at Boundary Dam is seen by Schlissel and others as an illustration of how carbon-capture technology — the process of capturing the carbon pollution that power plants, oil refineries, factories and other big polluters produce before it can escape into the air — is still not ready for prime time.

The project’s latest announcement comes on the heels of another carbon-capture project in Texas that got put on indefinite hiatus. Petra Nova, near Houston, was put on hold due to financial considerations. IEEFA said it, too, was performing “nowhere near expectations.”

Industry is excited about the budget's #CarbonCapture investments. But the technology is still expensive, and projects have not performed to expectations. Environmentalists worry it will lock us in to fossil fuels. Will Trudeau's wager pay off?

“Throwing money at these projects,” said Schlissel, “doesn’t show that these projects are financially viable and that they can stand on their own.”

How carbon capture is supposed to work

Carbon capture is effectively an umbrella term referring to a wide range of different technologies. Three common techniques are capturing the carbon dioxide before fossil fuels are burned, capturing it after they’re burned and capturing it through the combustion process itself.

Pre-combustion carbon capture converts fuels to a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and then converts the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide through the water gas shift conversion process. The leftover hydrogen can then be used in chemical plants or fed into a gas turbine to make electricity.

In a post-combustion carbon capture, the gases created from burning fossil fuels, which would normally be released into the atmosphere from a smokestack, are instead forced through chemical absorption solvents, typically derivatives of ammonia. The carbon dioxide in those gases is then separated and forms a carbonate salt.

A third method separates oxygen and nitrogen from air and uses the pure oxygen to create fossil fuel combustion, which results in a concentrated stream of mostly carbon dioxide and water vapour, with small amounts of contaminants. That gas is then purified.

There are different things that can be done with carbon dioxide once it’s captured. It can be stored underground, for example, or it can be injected into concrete to make it stronger. The fossil fuel industry also uses it in a process called “enhanced oil recovery” to extract more oil from the ground.

Budget grants key industry requests

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bet big on carbon capture this week in the 2021 federal budget.

The budget proposes to spend $319 million over seven years on “research, development, and demonstrations” to improve the commercial viability of carbon-capture technology.

It also proposed a tax credit for investments in carbon-capture projects with the goal of cutting emissions by at least 15 megatonnes annually. The design of that tax credit is subject to an upcoming 90-day consultation period, the budget noted.

Tax credits, financial support and research and development funding is exactly what the Business Council of Canada, a group representing the chief executives and heads of 150 Canadian firms, had asked for in its April 14 report, “Clean Growth 3.0 Achieving Canadian Prosperity in a Net Zero World.”

The business council called carbon capture a “critical” technology, highlighting the Boundary Dam as well as Shell Canada’s Quest facility in its report, and touting its use in capturing pollution during the production of hydrogen from natural gas.

“It’s a technology that has applications across a lot of sectors, which is why it’s important for Canada,” said John Dillon, senior vice-president of policy and corporate counsel at the business council. He said it could be applied in oilsands upgrading and refining in addition to capturing gases from other heavy industry.

Dillon said the government’s support was important because Canadian companies are facing foreign competitors in jurisdictions that don’t have as stringent environmental rules. The business council believes that, while carbon-capture costs are relatively high as of now, that will change as more projects come online.

“The tax credit is one way of making the economics of it work better,” said Dillon. “What we need more than anything, and this is true in other countries as well, is more experience with (carbon-capture technology) to hopefully bring down the costs.”

Another kick at the carbon-capture can

Carbon capture, however, isn’t a new idea; it has received government attention and support for years in Canada. The oil-rich province of Alberta, for example, has championed investing public funds in the technology for well over a decade.

Despite this, Canada is currently capturing only four megatonnes of carbon per year, the federal budget said. Meanwhile, the world needs to capture many, many orders of magnitude more carbon if the climate crisis is to be tackled — a number that stretches into the gigatonnes, according to the International Energy Agency.

For that reason, many environmental groups are skeptical that carbon capture is the solution many are hoping it is. They say government funding would be better directed towards initiatives that lower the production of carbon pollution in the first place.

“We’ve been investing in this technology for two decades, billions of dollars, in the context of coal primarily, but recently also natural gas and oil — and yet globally we’re capturing like 40 megatonnes,” said Julia Levin, climate and energy program manager for Environmental Defence Canada.

“For sure, oil and gas companies should be figuring out how to reduce their emissions. But is that the most efficient use of limited taxpayer money? Why is that where we’ve chosen to put potentially billions of dollars in foregone revenue, to helping oil and gas companies reduce their emissions, when we know that 80 per cent of emissions is downstream — and there are no carbon capture on car tailpipes?”

Levin also raised concerns the tax credit could be weakened during the government’s consultation period. The budget said the tax credit was “not intended” to be made available for enhanced oil recovery, language that leaves the door open to a reversal down the road, she said.

If it is eventually allowed in projects that extract more oil, then it would essentially be “an incentive to pollute,” she said. That is what happened in the United States, Levin argued, with a similar tax credit.

The budget also discussed carbon capture’s use with hydrogen, which is concerning to climate advocates given the natural gas industry’s history of leaking or venting methane into the atmosphere from their equipment. Atmospheric concentrations of methane are driving global heating.

“That’s where our real worry is,” said Levin. “Now we have a tax incentive to create a blue hydrogen sector that will lock us in to natural gas for decades to come.”

Keep reading

Grasslands = carbon capture. Nature's finest technology, cheaper (and more beautiful) and does not encourage more oil and gas burning. Plus you can graze animals on it.

Corporate Canada's plan is to "green" fossil fuels, not get off them. Increase fossil fuel production, not manage its decline. Seek new markets for oilsands production, not new products.
Fossil fuels for longer. Delay the energy shift. Throw a life line to fossil fuel companies. An excuse to keep producing fossil fuels, not an incentive to get off them.
A bet that the world will fail to take real action on climate change. A bet that the world will continue to burn 100+ million barrels of oil per day decades down the road. The only scenario in which oilsands expansion makes sense.
A bet on climate disaster. And a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Hence, Trudeau’s wager on carbon capture and SMRs (nuclear energy). He is betting against his grandchildren's future.
This is the fossil fuel industry's response to climate change. Based on its desire to protect its profits — not protect the climate, environment, and society.
Which also explains why taxpayers are largely going to foot the bill. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney asked the federal government for $30 billion in funding to explore carbon capture technologies.
If carbon capture (CCS) is viable, let industry pay for it. No reason taxpayers should foot the bill to curb industry's pollution, including carbon emissions.

CCS is an underperforming white elephant. The two projects now online in AB required govt subsidy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to capture a tiny fraction of emissions — and only from large emitters.
The biggest bang for our climate buck? Not CCS. Surely, one of the most expensive and least efficient methods to reduce emissions. Huge opportunity costs.
If CCS is not viable now for large industrial emitters, how much less viable is it for countless small point sources, such as vehicles and buildings? CCS fails to capture emissions at the consumer end, where the bulk of emissions occur. CCS does not address or capture other air pollutants.
CCS is a delay tactic to keep the oil & gas industry on life support for decades.
Huge expense for tiny emissions reduction at taxpayers' expense.
Current emission reductions from the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line are a drop in the bucket. $1.2 billion to bury 1.8 Mt of CO2 a year. $495 million from AB taxpayers. $63.2 million from Canadian taxpayers. $558 million in tax dollars for a drop in the bucket in emission reductions.
If the AB govt had invested $495 million in public transit, energy efficiency and conservation, building retrofits, and renewables, it could have cut far more than 1.6 Mt.
Expensive and energy-intensive, CCS simply perpetuates the fossil fuel regime. Industry likes CCS (especially for enhanced oil recovery), as long as govt subsidizes it.
Total scam.

Well put Mr Pounder. !
Having said that some CC methods can be an effective strategy within a broad and efficacious sustainability regimen. Things like CarbonCure https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/carboncure-co2-concrete-xpriz...
PS: Sure wish we had a rating or approval gadget for comments on here.

A recent UK report estimates that the UK would need to double electricity production to displace the energy used in transportation. by 2050 (New Scientist, April 03, 2021). A recent BC report also concluded that we will need 100% more electricity for the same requirement. Given the lead time and the trillions needed to build that much infrastructure, $300 million to capture what is in the short term unavoidable co2 production while keeping the lights on seems not unreasonable.

The $319 million is just a start. That sum merely funds "research, development, and demonstrations". It doesn't include the cost of the tax credit for investments in carbon-capture projects. Nor the hundreds of millions (Kenney asked for $30 billion!) govts have already invested in such projects.
Carbon capture fails to address tailpipe emissions and air pollution. 80% of the emissions occur at the consumer end.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better to spend our scarce resources on sustainable and renewable infrastructure, public transit, and redesigning our cities for people, not cars. All provide a far bigger bang for our climate buck. Reducing more emissions at lower cost.
CCS is at best an expensive distraction. A ploy at taxpayers' expense to extend the lifetime of fossil fuels.

Too big to fail, centralized solutions dominated by the very players who've caused the problem in the first place, is more than 'unreasonable'....its an example of what Einstein called insanity. Oil and Gas interests have proven themselves incapable of ethical behavior. They've left hundreds of unclosed wells all over western Canada....after conning little wanna be companies into buying the unproductive mess. They've outright refused to pay their municipal taxes.......and been allowed to get away with it. They're busy cutting jobs and installing another fantasy solution, ie Artificial intelligence, into their operations so they can keep all the money at the top, and not have to deal with pesky workers. They've captured regulatory bodies so any oversight becomes a paper tiger....they lie about the amount of methane leaking from their operations...etc. etc. etc.

And now you pronounce it not unreasonable for my tax dollars to be used to help them get the scam of carbon capture up and running for the next 50 years??? Forgive me for thinking you either work for the industry, or need to do a bit more research into these companies, and how they actually operate on our common ground.

"Canadian Natural expects to generate up to C$5.4 billion in free cash flow in 2021, from C$692 million last year. Suncor projects additional cash flow of C$400 million this year and C$1 billion by 2023. Cenovus could generate C$3.5 billion this year, analysts at investment bank Morgan Stanley estimate, from a loss last year."
"Canada's cash-rich oil sands firms face pressure to spend on transition" (Reuters, Apr 01, 2021)

Do you think oilsands companies just might be able to pay for carbon capture without taxpayer help?
What ever happened to the polluter-pay principle?
Why are taxpayers on the hook to clean up the fossil fuel industry?
AB's oil & gas industry has barely started to fund its clean-up liabilities: north of $260 billion. The industry is turning to taxpayers for bailouts while milking govts for subsidies.

From today's Calgary Herald:
"In the oil and gas sector, the reaction to the credit was largely positive, as the industry was pressing for assistance to kick-start more investment into the technology.
"In a statement, Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix called the announcement 'an important step forward,' while Suncor Energy CEO Mark Little said the company sees CCUS 'as a key enabler in meeting our shared environmental objectives.'
"However, the exclusion of enhanced oil recovery from the federal tax credit caused some consternation. Kenney said the national tax credit needs to meet or exceed the U.S. incentive if it’s to attract sufficient investment.
"'It’s a start... it’s not everything we asked for,' Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in an interview.
"CCUS developments would allow the oilsands to potentially reach net-zero emissions and generate 'low-cost, low-risk, low-carbon' oil, she added.
"'That puts us in a remarkable position in this province to maintain and grow production and, at the same time, meet our environmental emission-reduction targets.'"
"Varcoe: Job retraining, carbon capture bright spots for Alberta in federal budget" (Calgary Herald, Apr 21, 2021)

Grow production and meet our emissions targets.
That's like my chocolate cake diet. The more I eat, the faster I lose weight. At least, that's what I tell myself.
Need to cut GHG emissions? Produce more fossil fuels!
The doublethink of Canada's energy and climate policy in a nutshell.
A pipe dream.
The UN, the OECD, and the federal Environment Commissioner all warn that Canada is NOT on track to meet its targets. The main obstacle? Rising oilsands emissions.
OECD: "Without a drastic decrease in the emissions intensity of the oilsands industry, the projected increase in oil production may seriously risk the achievement of Canada's climate mitigation targets."
Mark Jaccard, SFU: "National studies by independent researchers (including my university-based group) consistently show that Mr. Trudeau’s 2015 Paris promise of a 30% reduction by 2030 is unachievable with oilsands expansion.
"Trudeau’s Orwellian logic: We reduce emissions by increasing them"
CCS or no CCS, Canada will continue to miss its inadequate emissions targets just as we have missed all previous targets by miles.
If we can't find new markets for our oilsands sludge, maybe we can export the barrels of disingenuous flim-flam pouring out of our politicians.

WOW! "Barrels of disingenuous film-flam" Nice one!

Goeff, You seem to know what you are writing about. re. your next comment. - produce more & cut emissions.
NO : produce fuels in compact, HORIZONTAL , TRANSPORTABLE units for trains & ships
instead of VERTICAL Aborbers and trickling Absorbent to capture emissions with 15% CO2.
The Stripping and the rest is regular Chemistry without the bells and whisrlles of BD3 or
Shand CCTF. WHAT If IMAGINE Richard Troy, P.Eng. Toronto

Adding carbon capture technology increases the energy requirements of a power plant by ~50%. Far cheaper with no carbon emissions and no other toxic air pollution if we just replace the plant with wind turbines, solar panels, and some storage. That also removes the cost and pollution of mining fossil fuels.

Hi Guys - thanks for the usual rants about oil companies - and I don't disagree with the rants about what bad citizens these companies have been, or how rapacious their profit motives, etc. But, really, one should expect the Kenney government to put the best possible spin on this, and for Geof to put the worst possible spin on it, but there is little point in getting angry about it. Re: Carbon capture, there are other industries that are critical to the (our?) green revolution, steel production for example, which are difficult to de-carbonize, even if we had electric furnaces; to say nothing of needing oil as a bridge energy source for mining the gravel, cement, iron, copper, cobalt and rare earth metals required for building hydro, wind turbines, batteries and solar power. So, carrots and sticks while we make the transition; this is a little carrot, and all these 'bad guys' are subject to more expensive carbon taxes too.

You're misunderstanding the concept of a "bridge". CCS is only useful in large electricity generation power plants, basically. As far as I know, there has never been a CCS project in anything other than a power plant. So the question is, say we have $5 billion to spend on climate-change stuff. We can make an existing power plant less carbon intensive by doing a CCS thingie in it. Or, we can spend the $5 billion on generating like ten times as much clean electricity with solar or wind installations (and carbon tax the fossil-fuel plant until it goes out of business).

Using it on CCS doesn't act as a "bridge" to the "generating clean electricity" part, it diverts money away from it.

In theory, maybe you could use CCS in big steel plants. But that's pretty niche, and there are technologies for getting the coal burning out of steel, it's just that like CCS they're not mature. By the time we've got all the lower hanging fruit taken care of, we can take a look at the situation in steel then and see whether electrifying steel manufacture or CCS turn out to be more viable. I suspect it won't be CCS even for that.

Finally, a political point: From the moment climate change became an issue, it was clear that the interests of fossil fuel companies and the interests of everyone else were now opposed. In general, whatever the fossil fuel companies say on the subject has been and will continue to be a lie, and whatever they want is what we should not do. They want CCS and hydrogen, so we can be pretty sure those are greenwashing crap just from that fact alone.

Capturing or absorbing fossil fuel emissions at the source is the first stage of CCS, This is achieved by the low tech force of Nature called Gravity. An Aborbent is a material which
absorbs or captures another material. An ink biotter absorbs ink. As hot fuel emissions
rise in a tall, VERTICAL Absorber in CCS the emissions say with 15% CO2 are absorbed
by a liquid Absorbent sprinkling down from on high. The rest is Chemistry to seperate the CO2 gas . What if the Absorber was an assembly of pipes & mixers in box cars capturing CO2 from 2000 diesel locomotives in India. THINK Richard Troy, P.Eng.

Hurt. Next question?
To be fair, stupid crap like this isn't that huge a portion of the whole budget. It's a sop to the fossil fuel industry so they don't squall too loud about the overall direction; typical gutless Liberal approach of "It won't matter if we un-ruffle some feathers by shovelling some money to stupid stuff as long as we also spend some money on good stuff." The results are messy and inefficient and corrupt, but at least some decent stuff should get done.