Last week, the Boundary Dam power plant in Saskatchewan become the world’s first full-sized coal-fired power plant to be equipped with a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system, which marks an important step forward for a technology that many claim is essential to meeting global climate change targets, but was previously only theoretical in nature.
“CCS is the only known technology that will enable us to continue to use fossil fuels and also de-carbonize the energy sector,” the chief of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a statement hailing the launch.
Similar capture systems have already been deployed at three industrial plants throughout the United States which produce hydrogen and fertilizer, as well as at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, a lignite gasification facility just a few miles south of Boundary Dam in North Dakota.
These projects, however, produce relatively concentrated streams of carbon dioxide, which are much easier and less expensive to capture. Power plants such as SaskPower’s Boundary Dam, on the other hand, produce much more diluted carbon dioxide emissions, which are harder and more expensive to process.
Another issue is that carbon capture is incredibly energy-intensive. A massive chunk of the electricity that’s generated is actually used within the plant itself to power the capture systems, which makes it far less energy efficient. The biggest challenge surrounding the implantation of CSS systems is how to deploy them on a large enough scale to reduce carbon emission while also remaining affordable.
“Getting Boundary Dam up and running is a great example of how Canada is a leader in CCS,” said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven. “The experience from this project will be critically important. I wish the plant operator every success in showing the world that large-scale capture of CO2 from a power station is indeed not science fiction, but today’s reality.”
Even though Boundary Dam is a relatively small power plant, equipping it with a CSS system has cost a lot of money. SaskPower, which is owned by the Province of Saskatchewan, has invested around $1.2 billion in the project since 2009, including a $215 million contribution from that Canadian government to help fund the demonstration project.
Read more about the story at National Geographic.