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Carbon capture technology poised to become key weapon against climate change

February 21, 2023
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As Canada moves forward on its commitments to mitigate climate change, most Canadians are aware of ongoing efforts to tap renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Lesser known, but of potentially greater impact, is carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) – technology that captures and sequesters carbon from existing processes or removes carbon from fossil fuels to convert them to clean energy sources.

The issue first gained wide attention when Natural Resources Canada published its carbon capture roadmap in 2006. Subsequent government incentives at the federal and provincial levels are expected to spur significant infrastructure projects over the next decade that will establish Canada as a leader in the field.

The types of projects vary. Much of the expected activity will be retrofitting existing facilities to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions. The Boundary Dam project, for example, captures emissions from a coal-fired power plant in Estevan, Saskatchewan, and the Quest project captures emissions from an oilsands operation in Fort Saskatchewan.

Another key area is developing infrastructure that will decarbonize natural gas, which is expected to replace traditional fossil fuels as a key energy source. The bulk of this activity is taking place in Alberta, where energy companies are transitioning to a carbon-neutral future.

"Alberta announced its hydrogen roadmap last year," says Blair Addison, SMS Equipment's Regional Sales Manager for Alberta, "and they're focused on driving hydrogen and accelerating the goal of having that as one of their primary exports over the next decade. They're trying to diversify the Alberta marketplace because historically, we've been oil and gas focused. Projects are also underway for recycling sequestered carbon for use in the manufacturing of concrete, and for other processes that use CO2 ".

Major construction projects

Investment in CCUS infrastructure is expected to generate billions in new construction. "There will be major facilities built, including a $2.5 billion carbon capture plant," says Addison. "Roads will be needed to support these facilities, and there will be a network of pipelines to carry the carbon to disposal sites."

One of the most important projects to date, the recently completed Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL), is designed to carry up to 2 megatonnes of CO2 annually. There will also be significant retrofitting projects as existing facilities improve their carbon footprint. "A lot of the work will involve existing facilities," says Addison, "for example, adding carbon capture capabilities to existing natural gas facilities or pumping carbon into the ground where natural gas was extracted."

The future of CCUS will become clearer as the technology matures and government policies evolve. "The future of CCUS will be determined by how important ESG becomes as a differentiator," says Addison. "People weren't winning bids based on their ESG plans until recently, but now, there are certain jobs where they won't let you bid without it. But fast forward ten years, I would bet the farm that there will be major projects where they say, 'give us your bid and give us your carbon plan.'"

The transition will make it increasingly important for contractors to plan for a low-carbon future.

"It's important for contractors to think about their decarbonization strategy today," says Addison. "In terms of heavy equipment, the burning of diesel is a huge component of a contractor's carbon footprint, and hydrogen as a fuel is seen as major step forward."

The bottom line:

Canada's transition to clean energy will include billions of dollars in CCUS infrastructure projects. The work will involve roads, pipelines, new plants, and upgrades of existing facilities. The result will be a sustainable future for Canada's energy sector and a local source of green fuel for the next generation of heavy construction equipment.

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