What you need to know about carbon capture

carbon capture oil sands

If you are wondering what game changing innovations are driving down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and helping to turn the corner on climate change, look no farther than carbon capture and storage (CCS). This proven clean technology has been deployed in oil fields for decades and the industry has been a pioneer in its development. In fact, Canada is now recognized around the world as a leader in CCS technologies and the oil sands industry continues to collaborate to advance innovation in this area.

CCS is in the spotlight today because experts believe it is one of the primary ways industry can dramatically reduce GHG emissions. Six of Canada’s top oil sands producers recently announced that CCS is one of the major pathways being pursued to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands operations A 2020 BMO Capital Markets report* confirms the long-term goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is “well within the realm of possibility” using technologies that either store carbon safely underground, or utilize the carbon component in valuable products. 

Karo Afiegbe, Technology Development Specialist & Advisor, CO2 Capture at Cenovus Energy, and a member of COSIA’s CCUS working group, is bullish on CCUS for the oil sands sector. (The ‘U’ adds ‘utilization’ to the CCS acronym). The group is made up of industry specialists who pool their knowledge and expertise to progress CCUS innovation that will further reduce GHG emissions from oil sands facilities. 

COSIA works closely with stakeholders who are committed to the success of CCUS in Canada, including CMC Research Institutes (Alberta), the Global CCS Institute (Saskatchewan), the Alberta government and Natural Resources Canada. The working group consolidates CCUS knowledge, identifies new and emerging CCUS technologies, and develops and oversees research and innovation projects.

“We believe there is strong potential for CCUS usage in the oil sands, but collaboration via joint industry partnerships, with government support, will be critical to the success of addressing GHG emissions reduction using carbon capture,” Afiegbe explains. “Sharing the costs of technology development and constructing several carbon capture plants and integrating them into existing oil sands facilities today will take a significant investment from multiple participants.”

The CCUS working group evaluates emerging CCUS technologies against a list of performance criteria to benchmark against the existing traditional technology currently in commercial application. They also reach out to innovators who may have next generation solutions that promise to make carbon capture cheaper and more efficient.

As for converting captured carbon into valuable products, those technologies are showing promising signs in delivering an alternative to geological storage, but the marketplace is still in its infancy. However, the recent NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition gave this area a huge push onto the world stage, igniting global discussion of a circular carbon economy.
Arriving at an optimal CCUS solution, or a suite of solutions, is too large a challenge for any one company to do by itself, Afiegbe says. But the oil sands industry, with its technical expertise and 70 years of experience, is well placed to partner with others to accelerate commercially viable CCUS. 

The Oil Sands Pathway to Net Zero alliance has committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from oil sands operations by 2050. The anchor of this vision is a major Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) trunkline connected to a carbon sequestration hub that would allow multi-sector ‘tie-in’ projects for expanded emissions reductions.

About CCUS

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), or carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a range of technologies that strip carbon dioxide (C02) from industrial waste gases or directly from the atmosphere. The captured C02 is compressed and transported by pipeline, ship, rail or truck to its destination where it is either stored safely and permanently underground (carbon storage) or converted into materials, such as carbon fibre, with application in other industries (carbon utilization).

CCUS is a proven technology. The challenge is to make it economically viable for commercial operations. Development of large scale geological sequestration (storage) projects historically have required industry-government partnerships due to scope and cost. The oil sands industry is working collaboratively with multiple stakeholders to reduce development costs and grow a carbon capture network that will stimulate innovation and accelerate widespread deployment.

COSIA member Canadian Natural has advanced several CCS initiatives and is the fifth-largest industry owner of CCS capacity in the world and the largest in Canada. Between 2015 and 2020, the company’s Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility, located at the Scotford Upgrader, captured and safely stored five million tonnes of CO2 and at a lower cost than anticipated. This number is equal to the annual emissions from about 1.25 million cars. 

*BMO Capital Markets Oil & Gas Report: The 400 Billion Barrel Opportunity for Friendly Oil, and Canada’s Evolving Role (March 2020).

Interested in stores like these? Check out: 
•    Energy and environmental solutions to a persistent industry challenge 
•    Rounding up CO2: A circular economy 
•    Clean tech for the world 

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