Canada’s expertise in carbon capture and storage has won it a leading role in the global energy transition
As Canada accelerates its energy transition, its expertise and investments in cleaner energy, agriculture and low-carbon initiatives are aimed at laying the foundations for a stronger, greener and more resilient economy.
The country took an early step on this journey in 2007, when the province of Alberta — epicentre of the country’s oil sand industry — made history by becoming the first jurisdiction in North America to institute a carbon tax on large industrial emitters. The tax had raised C$463m for energy research by 2019, the year in which the Canadian government introduced a federal carbon tax, which was then followed by the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act in November 2020. A groundbreaking piece of legislation, the Act promises to hold politicians accountable for reaching climate targets and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
As well as leading the way in carbon taxation, Canada is home to some of the major players in the fossil fuels sector who stand at the forefront of innovation in carbon capture and storage (CCS), a series of technologies that enable the burning of fossil fuels while mitigating emissions worldwide.
These include Shell Canada, which operates the Quest carbon capture and storage facility near Edmonton on behalf of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project. Quest is the first large-scale CCS project in North America to store CO2 exclusively in deep, non-potable saline water formations.
Launched in 2015, with C$865m financial assistance from the Alberta and Canadian federal governments, Quest stores more CO2 than any other onshore CCS facility in the world. In July 2020, Shell Canada announced that Quest had captured and safely stored 5m tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of annual emissions from about 1.25m cars. The cost of operating Quest was also 35 per cent lower than was forecast in 2015.
Canada is home to some of the major players in the fossil fuels sector who stand at the forefront of innovation in carbon capture and storage (CCS).
“Quest has demonstrated that commercial-scale CCS works, and works well. It has been a success from the start, being built under budget and ahead of schedule,” explains Tim Wiwchar, Business Opportunity Manager, Shell. “With Quest operating at lower cost than expected and capturing more CO2 than originally projected, it offers a pathway to future commercial CCS opportunities with more attractive economics.”
In the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan, the government-owned electricity utility company, SaskPower, operates the world’s first fully integrated and full-chain CCS facility on a coal-fired power plant at its Boundary Dam 3 (BD3) facility near Estevan. Capturing 90 per cent of the plant’s carbon dioxide, 100 per cent of its sulphur dioxide and 50 per cent of its nitrous oxide emissions before they reach the atmosphere, BD3 is capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 1m tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent to taking 250,000 cars off the road.
Once captured, CO2 from BD3 becomes a commodity and is sold to a local oil company for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) purposes, a transaction that not only acts as a source of revenue for the plant but which also helps to offset the cost of the CCS process. The CO2 that is not sold for EOR is delivered, via a two-kilometre pipeline, to the nearby Aquistore Storage Project, where it is injected 3.4 kilometres below ground into a naturally occurring layer of brine-filled sandstone for permanent storage.
Aquistore, the world’s most comprehensive full-scale geological laboratory for CO2 storage, was developed by the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC), a not-for-profit research and development organisation founded in 1998. Aquistore has not only demonstrated the advantages of injecting captured CO2 into deep, saltwater-infused sandstone, but is also helping to consolidate Canada’s position at the forefront of the global energy transition through CCS research. In October 2020, the PTRC announced that, in just five years, Aquistore had permanently stored 325 kilotons of CO2, the equivalent of taking 81,000 cars off Canadian roads for a year.
Owing to its independent analysis and peer-reviewed research, the PTRC’s knowledge and accumulation of unique and extensive data is now globally sought after, and has attracted industry and government partners from Japan, Korea, Australia, the US, South Africa and the UK, looking for safe, workable solutions that can assist in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
“I think that this a really exciting time if you are talking about being part of leading this transition,” says the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change, who was raised in Saskatchewan and spent more than 20 years with companies dedicated to developing green technologies. “There are enormous opportunities for countries that are actually thoughtful about this and are first movers, that say we’re going to be part of this transition.”
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