SaskPower looks to pioneer clean coal tech

A demonstration project aims to slash emissions by about one million tonnes annually

April 01, 2009

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The words clean and coal used to be considered opposites. The original, dirt cheap fossil fuel has a grimy history. But Saskatchewan is not in bondage to the past. The province is out to become a showcase of clean – even green – coalEstevan power plant is a breakthrough foray into clean coal.

A $240-million pledge of support in the 2008 federal budget gave SaskPower the green light. The provincial corporation is launching one of the world’s first and largest clean coal and carbon capture demonstration projects. A seven-year, $1.4-billion federal, provincial and industry effort will rebuild a coal-fired power generation unit at Boundary Dam in Estevan.

The project highlights a provincial focus on technology as a means of combating climate change. There is great hope that such pilot projects will develop technology that can be replicated at a lower cost in other plants.

“Society will be using fossil fuels for a long time, and coal is used a lot in power generation; that’s just the reality,” says SaskPower’s Bob Stobbs, the executive director of the Canadian Clean Power Coalition. Coal’s environmental performance can be greatly improved by adding a carbon capture system to a power plant.

There are three types of carbon dioxide capture, says Stobbs. One, known as “gasification,” manufactures clean synthetic fuel from coal. A second, “post-combustion,” is a carbon dioxide counterpart to scrubbers employed in stripping acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide out of plant exhaust. A third is an improved combustion method known as “oxyfuel.”

Last summer, 10 national and international companies were invited to submit proposals. The carbon capture system will be selected later this year.

The resulting demonstration project is intended to make 100 megawatts of power while reducing emissions by about one million tonnes per year. Captured carbon dioxide will be used in enhanced oil recovery.

But as with any technology-based efforts to green the planet, there is a hefty price tag. SaskPower could not do its clean coal project without government subsidies as “you don’t get a premium for carbon-free electricity,” says Stobbs.

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