ESTEVAN, SASKATCHEWAN (AP) - Billed as the world's first commercial-scale carbon capture undertaking, the $1.35 billion Boundary Dam Project near Estevan, Saskatchewan, is only a few months away from startup.
SaskPower expects to reduce carbon dioxide by 90 percent at its rebuilt Boundary Dam Power Station's Unit 3 when the system becomes operational mid-year. The plant is located in southeastern Saskatchewan, near the North Dakota border.
Although initiated as a way to meet stringent federal emissions restrictions coming in 2015 for coal-fired plants in Canada, the project means more than fulfilling a mandate for SaskPower. Envisioning itself as a leader in the power industry, SaskPower hopes to capture not just carbon but also world attention. No other carbon capture venture compares with the Boundary Dam Project in size.
"It's absolutely pioneering," SaskPower President Robert Watson told The Minot Daily News.. "It's the first in the world. It will be a definite model that any company, government or region in the world who is burning fossil fuels at all for power production should be looking at, all the way from design phase through the construction and operation. They should be having serious looks at it to see if it fits their profiles at all."
However, it could be two years before the system reaches peak efficiency and SaskPower has a firm grasp on the advantages associated with its system.
"What we will do is run the Boundary Dam facility for a couple of years, test the technology and see what the economies are of running a plant in full production, and go from there," Watson said.
Unit 3 is to begin producing in May. SaskPower plans to sync it with the carbon capture facility a couple of months later.
"The capture facility is done. It's constructed. We are just doing the commissioning and inspection testing. We are taking our time doing that," Watson said.
Employees are being trained in the new technology and in operating a chemical plant, which is the classification for the carbon capture facility.
"It's long-term employment for families in the area," Watson said. "It helps the economy in the southeastern part of the province, not that the economy needs helping. It's robust now."
Construction started in April 2011 but getting the new system into operation has been delayed, mostly by surprises uncovered in the rebuild on the power plant. The unexpected, additional work meant extra time and money.
"We will be a bit over budget, but in the whole scheme of things, it will be quite modest," Watson said.
Starting in July 2015, the Canadian government is requiring that coal-burning units more than 50 years old either shut down or reduce carbon dioxide emissions to less than 420 tons per gigawatt hour. SaskPower has decommissioned Units 1 and 2 at its Boundary Dam station. Both were more than 50 years old.
In the next two to three years, SaskPower will have to decide whether to convert Boundary Dam Units 4 and 5 to carbon capture, Watson said. They reach 50 years in the early 2020s.
Abandoning coal as a fuel isn't realistic in southern Saskatchewan, Watson said.
"We have a lot of coal in the southern part of the province, and we sit right on top of it. It's on the surface so it's easy to get, a very, very cheap fuel supply, and we have a lot of it," he said. "To use it as a stable, reasonable fuel supply was something we really wanted to do."
At the start of the year, the company was providing power in the province through its three coal-fired power stations, seven hydroelectric stations, six natural gas stations and two wind facilities for a combined generation of 3,513 megawatts of electricity.
The 110- to 115-megawatt Boundary Dam Unit 3 will meet the new federal standards with technology to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide, cutting emissions from 1,100 tons to 160 tons per gigawatt hour. The technology also will capture 100 percent of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
The carbon capture system is designed to capture 1 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. SaskPower has a long-term contract with Cenovus Energy of Calgary, Alberta, to transfer the carbon dioxide by pipeline to the Weyburn field for enhanced oil recovery. Carbon dioxide captured at the synfuels plant at Beulah already is being used for oil recovery around Weyburn, Sask.
SaskPower is involved with Aquistore, a research project managed by the Petroleum Technology Research Centre, to pipe some of the carbon dioxide to an injection well to be stored 3.5 kilometers, or about 2 miles, underground.
SaskPower also has markets for fly ash and for sulfur dioxide, converted into sulfuric acid.
Electricity users won't see rate increases due to the carbon capture project, Watson said. SaskPower is absorbing those costs, although rates could be affected by the retrofitting the Unit 3 power station.
The Boundary Dam project received a $240 million federal grant, which helped pay for the design and modeling that went into developing the technology.
SaskPower wants to create three to four models from its technology that can reduce carbon dioxide by 50 percent or better and then market those models to companies based on their desired carbon reduction efforts.
SaskPower also is constructing a carbon capture test facility at its Shand Power Plant near Estevan. Developed in collaboration with Hitachi, Ltd., the facility will give technology developers an opportunity to test new systems for controlling carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Completion of the facility is expected by early 2015.