Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Sask. CCS ready for the big time

- ByMalcolmW­ilson

Following is the viewpoint of the writer, director of the Office of Energy and Environmen­t at the University of Regina.

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December approaches, world leaders are grappling with the challenge of developing climatecha­nge policies and programs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Copenhagen conference is expected to produce an agreement outlining mandatory targets for carbon dioxide emissions that will replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The U.S., the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, is considerin­g legislatio­n that would reduce its GHG emissions to 20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Canada is looking at similar targets.

Selection of the best tools for achieving these targets and reducing emissions of CO2 — the most problemati­c GHG from a climate change perspectiv­e — is widely debated among countries, industries and the public. Global emissions of CO2 are approximat­ely 30 billion tonnes annually. About 55 per cent comes from large sources such as power plants.

Wind, solar and hydro energy, conservati­on, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage are important options for reducing our carbon footprint. There is no single solution, but realistic considerat­ion needs to be given to what technology is at our disposal now, and the effectiven­ess and efficiency of that technology to safely reduce large amounts of CO2 emissions in a short time frame.

Much of the energy infrastruc­ture in North America is built on the consumptio­n of fossil fuels, whether in the form of electricit­y generation to heat and cool homes or petroleum fuel to power transporta­tion. As a result of this dependency, a sudden change to energy-intensive industries would not be economical­ly feasible without providing a solution to assist companies with compliance. As the world phases out of fossil fuels and into a wide variety of alternativ­es, we are going to continue using them for many decades to come. Therefore, it is imperative that we do so in an environmen­tally friendly fashion.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestrat­ion, can play a significan­t role in mitigating costs to industry and dramatical­ly reducing CO2 emissions. CCS can capture 85 to 95 per cent of CO2 emissions from the exhaust gases of major facilities such as coal and gas-fired power plants, oil refineries and steel plants before the emissions enter the atmosphere.

Once CO2 is extracted from the exhaust gas, it is compressed and moved by pipeline to injection sites where it is stored deep undergroun­d (at least 1,000 meters) in saltwater-filled rock formations, depleted oil and gas reservoirs and in unmineable coal beds. Basically, by injecting CO2 into the subsurface, we are returning it to its original environmen­t, where it has existed for millions of years.

Researcher­s believe that the risks of storing CO2 in the subsurface are very small, and they undertake extensive activities to ensure that risk is at its absolute minimum. In November 2008, the Internatio­nal Performanc­e Assessment Centre for Geological Storage of Carbon Dioxide (IPAC-CO2) was establishe­d at the University of Regina to assess geological storage sites and develop internatio­nal regulation­s for CCS projects.

Sequestrat­ion can have significan­t benefits for slowing climate change. Take for example the Weyburn-Midale CO2 enhanced oil recovery projects in Saskatchew­an. By the end of their 25-to 30-year life cycle, these projects will remove approximat­ely 40 million tonnes of CO2 that would otherwise have gone into the atmosphere. This is equal to taking roughly eight million cars off the road for a year. If we can start to make CCS a reality globally, then we can start to make a significan­t dent in the 30 billion tonnes of CO2 that is released annually around the world.

There are other benefits to building this new global industry, which has the potential to grow to the same size as the current natural gas industry. By developing CCS projects in Saskatchew­an, we will create jobs and position the province as a leader in the commercial developmen­t of CCS. For more than 20 years, the U of R and its partners have been developing CCS technologi­es. We are ready now to implement CCS as a working emissions reduction option and begin a large-scale fight against climate change.

Left unchecked, climate change will create significan­t hardships for the world and have significan­t costs to us as a society and as an economy. While from an economic perspectiv­e it is important to recognize that there is a cost to carbon dioxide capture and storage, there is a greater cost to doing nothing — losing islands in the Pacific ocean and intensifyi­ng storm events such as Hurricane Katrina.

We cannot afford to wait.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada