Monday November 24, 2014

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Carbon capture continues to attract attention

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Max Ball, who is the manager of coal technology and deployment for carbon capture and storage initiatives at SaskPower, spoke at the Estevan Energy Expo.

Estevan has proven to be the world's “proving ground” for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, according to Max Ball, the manager of coal technology and deployment for CCS initiatives at SaskPower.

Ball was one of the keynote speakers at the inaugural Estevan Energy Expo on June 13. He said there are a number of unique projects coming together at SaskPower, including the integrated CCS project at the Boundary Dam Power Station, and the carbon capture test facility at the Shand Power Station.

“We have some very interesting carbon capture projects underway in Estevan,” said Ball.

It's been a lengthy process to reach this point, he told the audience at the expo.

Carbon capture and storage has been considered and studied in Saskatchewan since the early 1980s, but it really gained traction in the past decade. A 300-megawatt CCS plant was approved for Shand in 2006, but it was scrapped in 2007 when most of the components for the $1 billion-plus project were more than double the budget. 

That's when SaskPower's focus shifted to retrofitting Unit 3 at the Boundary Dam Power Station with carbon capture technology.

“That project is coming along very well,” said Ball. “It's a few months late, but out of an 84-month schedule, four months is really not a game-changing issue.”

Construction is nearing the midway point on the test facility at Shand. Ball expects that it will be complete at the end of this year, and that test operations should begin in March or April of 2015.

Excitement is growing as SaskPower moves forward, Ball said. The Crown corporation is asking what these CCS projects will mean for the Estevan area, and for the power generation industry.

Units 4 and 5 at Boundary Dam are entering a critical phase. Ball said SaskPower has to decide whether to retrofit them for carbon capture as well, or retire the units.

“We have until the end of 2016 to put together the concept and the business case to support the initial investment,” said Ball.

That initial capital investment is a big decision, he said, because that's when engineering work has to happen. SaskPower also has to compile the business case, assess the first CCS project at Unit 3, and consider improvements they can make.

“Each project that we do teaches us how to do the next one cheaper, better and faster,” said Ball.

A final investment decision, which Ball referred to as the “point of no return,” occurs in 2019.

There are a lot of people watching SaskPower's CCS projects, Ball said, even though many jurisdictions have shelved CCS projects.

“So there's not a lot of places around the world today that can answer the questions about 'How does it really work? Is it something that suits other locations besides Saskatchewan?'”

Many of those projects were designed with the intention that they would be paid for by governments. But governments couldn't make the projects work, for a variety of reasons. Some didn't have the enhanced oil recovery (EOR) component to drive them forward. SaskPower has the EOR advantage in Saskatchewan.

Other nations scrapped their projects due to the economic uncertainty caused by the global recession.

There are some CCS projects that will be moving forward in the U.S.

Ball says that more than 300 people have come to Boundary Dam in the past year to see how the CCS facility has come together, and how it actually works. And once it is finished, Ball expects it will calm nerves about costs and performances associated with CCS.


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