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Carbon Capture Storage Finally Arrives

Before the rise of fracking, and the renewed commitment to nuclear generation, the big white hope of the energy market was carbon capture and storage. For years it was rumoured as the next big thing, and now it is a reality.

SaskPower the Canadian power company has opened the first large scale coal fired power station to capture and store its carbon dioxide emissions.

The 110MW Saskatchewan plant is intended to be able to capture 90% of its emissions or 1m tonnes of CO2.

Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, welcomed the news, saying:

“Carbon capture and storage is the only known technology that will enable us to continue to use fossil fuels and also decarbonise the energy sector.

“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.”

Brad Page, Chief Executive of the Global CCS Institute echoed the thoughts:

“We simply can’t have an effective response to tackling climate change without CCS”

Much focus is now on the success or otherwise of the plant with coal facing almost universal phasing out as an unreconstructed dirty fuel in its traditional form.

SaskPower’s investment isn’t the first but its operational capability is. The investment required and questionable economic viability has meant progress has been slow.

It is estimated that over $20bn has been invested in CCS projects as the cost of developing or retro-fitting CCS capabilities is estimated to be double the capital outlays of standard plants resulting in lower competitive margins meaning appetite has been low.

However with the impending phasing out of traditional coal stations a new solution to extracting energy from the still abundant, though dirty source, is needed.

The majority of captured CO2 is stored underground, and this has proven a major obstacle to its development especially in the UK and Europe where fears, akin to those surrounding fracking, have arisen as to the long term environmental and safety impacts of the process.

Additionally criticism is focussed on its relative cost compared to other renewable energy sources and the fact that it relies on using the captured CO2 to increase oil extraction in order to deliver a revenue stream that makes the technology viable.

Ian Yeates of SaskPower explained:

“I think at this stage of the game, because the concept is so new, having a revenue stream from the CO2 is critical to help the economics. But I think eventually that will not be required.

“There are 7,000 coal-fired turbines on the planet right now and they are not going to be turned off any time soon because people need the energy they produce.

“Is there going to be enough gas to replace all those units? We are going to be burning fossil fuels as a world economy for many many decades if not a century or two as energy demands grow…something like carbon capture and sequestration will be of value to deal with that.”

The world is watching Canada.