Canadian Coal Plant is the World’s First to Use Carbon Capture and Storage

Coal Air Pollution

By Maura Forrest

March 13, 2014

Saskatchewan’s largest coal-fired power plant will be the world’s first to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The innovation should cut the plant's carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent.

The Boundary Dam plant, near Estevan, underwent a $1.35 billion renovation that included a carbon sequestration unit to capture emissions before they're released. Federal funding accounted for $240 million of the cost. The plant will become operational in the coming months.

“It’s a pretty important project in terms of being a commercial-scale proof that you can do CCS on a coal retrofit,” said Chris Severson-Baker, managing director at the Pembina Institute. “It’s internationally significant. The rest of the world is looking closely at the Boundary Dam project.”

The project was born partly of necessity, as stricter emissions regulations on the province’s coal-burning power plants will be implemented in July 2015. The government had to shut down coal plants in favour of cleaner natural gas or to explore other options to reduce emissions from coal, said Richard Adamson, managing director of Carbon Management Canada.

“Based on the economics, Saskatchewan has opted for the carbon capture and storage approach off of coal,” he said.

One million tonnes of the captured carbon dioxide will be sold each year by SaskPower to Cenovus Inc., who will use it to pump oil out of old wells in a process called enhanced oil recovery. The value of the sale is undisclosed, but it will help offset the high cost of CCS technology.

Adamson believes CCS has other possible applications, particularly as constraints on emissions become more stringent.

“Right now, the economics are slim to negative on carbon capture and storage,” he said. “As the value of carbon emissions goes up, or as other regulatory constraints are put in place requiring reduction of carbon emissions, then storage in deep saline aquifers is likely to happen and there’s far, far more capacity there than there will be in enhanced oil recovery.”

There are currently a dozen large-scale CCS projects operating worldwide, mostly at natural gas processing facilities. Canada has other CCS projects in development, including a $1.35 billion Shell Canada operation in central Alberta.

For the moment, carbon capture and storage requires government funds to be viable. Severson-Baker emphasizes that such funding shouldn't shortchange investment in renewable energy. “Both need massive investment if we’re going to reduce the carbon intensity of the electricity sector," he said.