Back in 2013, then-Premier Brad Wall, centre, took then-US Senator Heidi Heitkamp on a tour of the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Carbon Capture Project. Ten years later, the US decided to adopt carbon capture wholesale for its coal fleet. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA, WASHINGTON – In 2011, the Government of Saskatchewan and SaskPower made the decision to go ahead with post-combustion carbon capture on Boundary Dam Unit 3. By 2014, a few months delayed and a few hundred million over budget, the $1.6 billion project was operating.

Tours from around the world came to see this, the new future in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions and anthropogenic climate change, sometimes referred to as “clean coal.”

And no one followed. No utility in North America installed post-combustion carbon capture to the same scale as SaskPower had on coal. Years went on, the processes at BD3 were improved, efficiency improved, but other utilities in North America were not following SaskPower’s lead. By 2018, SaskPower, itself, decided not to pursue carbon capture on Units 4 and 5, and quietly set aside a plan to implement it on Shand Power Station.

By the spring of 2022, SaskPower signed a memorandum of understanding with Ontario and New Brunswick to develop small modular reactors, with nuclear appearing to be the future. Asked by Pipeline Online why not build more carbon capture, or even new coal with carbon capture, Crown Investments Corporation Minister Don Morgan said, “Right now, it’s not an option to us under the under the federal Clean Standard regulations.”

“The federal government’s clean electricity standards would not allow for any further expansion or usage of fossil fuel. The contrary, there’s time limits as to how long things are there. So we intend to continue to work with the federal government and look at extending the life of some of the existing assets that are there. But an expansion, in those things at this point in time, does not fit with the federal government requirements.”

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Meanwhile the United States implemented a tax credit for captured CO2, including that used for enhanced oil recovery under a program known as 45Q. It even dramatically sweetened those credits over the last year.

But in the 2023 Canadian federal budget, there were no input tax credits for enhanced oil recovery, which is a way of putting captured CO2 to economic use.

It started to look like post combustion carbon capture on coal was all but dead.

US Senator Heidi Heitkamp, (D) North Dakota, visiting Boundary Dam Unit 3 in 2013, while it was still under construction. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

This changes everything

Then on May 11, the United States Environmental Protection Agency changed everything. It proposed new standards for coal and new natural gas power plants that would require carbon capture deployed universally by 2038.

“The proposal for coal and new natural gas power plants would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States.”

The new rules call for a 90 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. “The proposed standards are based on technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration/storage (CCS), low-GHG hydrogen co-firing, and natural gas co-firing, which can be applied directly to power plants that use fossil fuels to generate electricity,” the EPA said it its summary.

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That 90 per cent didn’t come out of nowhere. Indeed, SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Unit 3 Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage project was specifically cited by the EPA in its proposed rule. On Page 56 of 681, it states, “There are several examples of the application of CCS at EGUs, some of which are noted here with further detail provided in section VII.F.3.b.iii(A) of this preamble. These include SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Unit 3, a 110-MW lignite-fired unit in Saskatchewan, Canada, which has achieved CO2 capture rates of 90 per cent using an amine-based post-combustion capture system retrofitted to the existing steam generating unit. Amine-based carbon capture has also been demonstrated at AES’s Warrior Run (Cumberland, Maryland) and Shady Point (Panama, Oklahoma) coal-fired power plants.”

Power plants that choose not to implement changes, such as those near end of life, don’t have to make changes if they shut down by 2032.

The EPA noted, “For a coal-fired steam generating unit, the substitution of natural gas for some of the coal so that the unit fires a combination of coal and natural gas is known as ‘natural gas co-firing.’”

It similarly talks about co-firing increasing amounts of hydrogen with natural gas at natural gas units. Using hydrogen produces no carbon dioxide, the EPA noted, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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The EPA said, “The proposals would also result in cutting tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, harmful air pollutants that are known to endanger people’s health, especially in communities that for too long have disproportionally shouldered the burden of high pollution and environmental injustice.”

Indeed, capturing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are both processes accomplished by the BD3 project. According to the International CCS Knowledge Centre, BD3 captures 90 per cent carbon dioxide, 100 per cent sulphur dioxide and 50 per cent of the NOx, As well as various harmful particulate matters.

SaskPower responds

Asked for comment, SaskPower replied by email “Boundary Dam Power Station was the first power station in the world to successfully use Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. As of the end of March 2023, 5,227,891 tonnes of CO2 have been captured and prevented from entering the atmosphere.

“Our CCS facility regularly receives visitors from around the world, and we are happy to share our expertise as an operator with other utilities or jurisdictions considering CCS on coal. The knowledge we’ve gained at our CCS facility has also made SaskPower a resource for development of CCS projects in a wide range of industries outside of power generation, such as cement manufacturing, oil and gas production, and chemical processing.”

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Williston Basin Petroleum Conference

The Petroleum Technology Research Centre, in conjunction with the Ministry of Energy and Resources, hosted the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference (WBPC) in Regina on May 2-3. And this year a major feature was a “CCUS Summit,” focusing on carbon capture, utilization and storage.

At that conference, SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya said on May 2, “This is a perfect time to be talking about carbon capture, utilization and sequestration.”

He pointed out that for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023, 857,000 tonnes of CO2 had been captured at BD3 within that year.

In 2016, the International CCS Knowledge Centre was set up to spread the word, as it were, on carbon capture and storage. James Millar, president and CEO of the Knowledge Centre, said at the WBPC, “We do not reach the targets set by the government of Canada, set in Paris in 2015, if we do not incorporate large scale CCS.”

“We talk about it has to be a choice between renewables and between CCS. There’s no choice. It’s an all of the above. We have to sustain the jobs. And we need to create the jobs. We need to sustain communities, and ensure communities such as Estevan, communities across Alberta, maintain those jobs and create jobs, while keeping the carbon on the ground and meeting the global targets.”

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As for that 90 per cent capture mentioned by the EPA, Pandya noted on May 2 that initially, BD3 captured around 50 to 65 per cent of its nameplate million tonne per year capacity. But after 8.5 years of experience, it has improved to about 75 to 80 per cent of nameplate capacity.

(857,000 tonnes in one year would actually be 85.7 per cent of nameplate capacity.)

“I think we’ve learned a lot in eight and a half years,” Pandya said.

Millar noted that every other week, they are taking organizations to Estevan to tour BD3. “I think of one trip I made there three weeks ago and we had three organizations up from North Dakota, and they’re looking at CCS on lignite coal fired facility in that state, but they were fascinated with the facility and they were so eager to learn about the lessons learned from BD3.”

Those have included working through issues with fly ash and amine degradation. “You have to work through that,” Millar said.

He credited the Saskatchewan government for taking a chance, saying, “the learnings that Saskatchewan is able to impart now globally – we’re a leader. And we should be proud of that.”

 

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Carbon capture for all: In major climate step, EPA proposes 1st limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants

Further carbon capture on coal “not an option,” according to CIC Minister Don Morgan