While renewable energy and similar technologies offer a lot of promise, gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are still being pumped into the air globally every month. We need to be talking about solutions that can help stem that tide today, not in ten years. We should be talking about carbon capture and storage (CCS).

“Everyone knows that ultimately we need to move away from fossil fuels, but right now we have an installed system that uses fossil fuels and is going to continue to use them for some time,” says Dr. Rick Chalaturnyk of the University of Alberta. “CCS is the one solution that allows us to effectively remove emissions from the atmosphere right now.”

Carbon capture and storage is a suite of technologies that first removes CO2 from emission streams, whether that’s power generation or industrial sources like cement fabrication, then compresses it and transports it through pipelines to a storage site where it is injected into subsurface geological formations for permanent storage. Right now, it’s the only viable solution we have for directly mitigating the effects of large-scale emissions from fossil fuels.

Quest leads the way in Alberta

Over the past five years, Canada, already a world leader in fossil fuel production and exporting, has stepped up to become a world leader in CCS technology as well.  As part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, Shell Canada, Chevron Canada Limited, and Marathon Oil Canada Corporation recently built the ambitious Quest project, the world’s first oil sands CCS facility, near Edmonton. Construction started in 2012, and the site began commercial operation in 2015, capturing and permanently sequestering more than a million tons of CO2 in its first year of operation.

As the team leading a trailblazing project, the people behind Quest take their roles as teachers seriously. “Quest has implemented world class measurement, monitoring, and verification technologies in order to supervise all aspects of the operation,” says Dr. Chalaturnyk. “All that information is captured and is part of a knowledge-sharing agreement where Shell gives the data to the Alberta government and it’s then made available for anyone to learn from.”

CCS in Saskatchewan expanding in promising directions

In Saskatchewan, another CCS project is also pushing the envelope. The Aquistore project, attached to the SaskPower Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, is the world’s first commercial-scale CCS site for capturing post-combustion CO2 from a coal-fired power plant. With thousands of new coal-fired plants in construction or planning worldwide, the message that

CCS can work in this context is powerful and necessary.

The site is also a testbed for variable-flow CO2 injection. “A large part of the Boundary Dam’s economics is related to the sale of CO2 to oil fields for use in enhanced oil recovery,” explains Dr. Chalaturnyk. “But because there are times when the oil fields can’t use all the CO2 produced, there also has to be a storage component that can handle variable injection rates. On that front, Aquistore is fulfilling multiple objectives in a way that has rarely existed before.”

Carbon emissions are a global problem, and it’s only right that Canada take a leadership role in developing the technologies that can provide a solution today. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to invest in projects like these and the carbon pricing policies that make them commercially viable. “In a Canadian context,” says Dr. Chalaturnyk, “projects like Quest and Aquistore are providing such a great example to the international community and really showing them what’s possible.”