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Big Problems At Canada’s CCS Plant

March 26, 2016

By Paul Homewood 


h/t Joe Public




You may remember the glee with which the Guardian, BBC, DECC and others greeted the launch of Canada’s first CCS plant a couple of years ago. They are probably less keen to publicise all of the problems experienced with it since.



1) From the outset, the power plant’s capacity had to be reduced from 139 MW to 100 MW. But, to make matters worse, much of this power is used in actually operating the CCS unit itself. This is known as parasitic load, and it has been estimated to take away 25% of the electricity produced in the first place.

This is one of the things I always find most remarkable about arguments in favour of CCS. We are constantly told about the evils of pollution from coal plants (real pollution, not CO2), yet proponents of CCS want to burn even more coal, and thereby emit yet more pollution, just to run the CCS unit!


2) It was claimed at the outset that 90% of the CO2 produced would be captured. However, expert analysis suggests that only about half of this is permanently stored, with the rest either lost during the process, or lost during processing at the Weyburn oil field, where it is put to use.


3) Perhaps most damningly of all, internal documents from SaskPower revealed that there were "serious design issues" in the carbon capture system, resulting in regular breakdowns and maintenance problems that led the unit to only be operational 40% of the time.

SNC-Lavalin had been contracted to engineer, procure, and build the facility, and the documents asserted that it "has neither the will or the ability to fix some of these fundamental flaws.” The low productivity of the plant had in turn meant that SaskPower was only able to sell half of the 800,000 tonnes of captured carbon dioxide that it had contracted to sell to Cenovus Energy for use in enhanced oil recovery at a cost of $25 per tonne. In addition to the lost sales, this meant that SaskPower had been forced to pay Cenovus $12 million in penalties.


Now, OK, this is a new technology, so there are bound to be some teething problems. However, it all clearly makes a nonsense of original claims that this was in any way viable as a commercial scale operation. Indeed, an independent financial analysis by James Glennie calculated that the CCS plant would lose $1042 million over its life.

SaskPower customers will be pleased to know that they will be footing most of this bill. George Osborne was widely criticised for cancelling the £1 billion support for developing CCS technology in the UK, originally put in place by Ed Davey. We must be grateful for small mercies! 


But I’ll leave the final word to the Grantham Institute:


For most backers of carbon capture and storage, however, the major barrier remains its high price tag.

In Europe, for example, it would cost up to a combined $40 billion by 2030 to install the technology to cover 11 gigawatts of fossil fuel generation, or roughly 10 coal or natural gas power plants, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The complex infrastructure required to capture carbon from plants, transport the emissions through miles of pipelines and store the cocktail of gases deep underground also puts the technology beyond the grasp of most utilities.

Analysts say, for instance, that capturing carbon can almost double the cost of building a new coal-fired power plant, and can add up to 50 percent to the price of a natural gas facility.

  1. Joe Public permalink
    March 26, 2016 7:48 pm

    One has to wonder if the Grauniad will ever publish an update.

    “UK cancels pioneering £1bn carbon capture and storage competition

    Conservative government breaks manifesto promise on project to capture emissions from fossil fuel plants, days ahead of UN climate summit in Paris”

  2. March 26, 2016 8:02 pm

    The Clean Power Plan assumes the viability of CCS and the Sask plant was the example. It is doubtful that the EPA will roll back on regulations as a result of this minor inconvenience.

    • March 26, 2016 9:10 pm

      Actually, CPP doesn’t. The mandatory regulatory impact assessment actually says CCS is so expensive as an option that no new coal plants will ever be built, so there is no regulatory impact as defined by CCA. Essay Clean Coal either in my inexpensive ebook Blowing Smoke or online at Climate Etc. has references and details.

      • March 27, 2016 4:16 am

        The EPA never ruled out CCS. See 80FR p64661 Oct 23, 2015, the final rule. EPA says that it is expensive but does not rule it out. EPA kept saying CCS was feasible. See also EPA’s fact sheet on the CCP It is likely that the EPA would use it to price coal out of consideration. However, they maintain that CCS is practical. My opinion on CCS is that, although technically feasible, it is a practical impossibility and only good for sucking up federal money by all the hogs that can squeeze up to the trough. I’ll be happy to read your essay and what the wise folks on Climate Etc. opine on this, but the primary reference should be the Federal Regulations.

        The last few NSR permit applications I wrote the regulators required CO2 BACT’s and that the BACT’s consider CCS, because the EPA said it was practical.

  3. David Richardson permalink
    March 26, 2016 8:12 pm

    We were out buying some items of clothing for our grandkids today – they were Easter pressies (we do buy chocolate eggs as well).

    The granddaughter likes pink (and purple these days). We saw a T-shirt that I thought fitted Green energy ideas exactly. The printing on the front said 75% unicorn, 15% fairy, 10% mermaid – well at least it added up correctly, unlike anything Green.

    Just for full disclosure the grandson would just be happy with anything Star Wars.

  4. March 26, 2016 8:13 pm

    Almost anything is do-able if enough money is thrown at it, but where’s the limit?

    And if renewables were so great why would they even bother to try this?

  5. Jackington permalink
    March 26, 2016 8:17 pm

    More Megabucks down the CCS drain. What is the saying about being in a hole?

  6. Broadlands permalink
    March 26, 2016 9:00 pm

    How much “captured” CO2 is removed from the atmospheric load? If “we” are to “force” it back to the “safe” 350 ppm value the need is to “capture” the 50 plus ppm added since 1987.
    100% unicorn. Or, if it’s “hidden” in the ocean, mermaid?

  7. velcro permalink
    March 26, 2016 9:05 pm

    Beats me why CCS is ever considered against the much greater virtues of converting existing thermal stations to super critical or ultra super critical generation plants. These can generate 60% more power than conventional sub critical power plants, for the same amount of fuel (coal) used. It is a terrible waste to abandon consented sites and transmission infrastructure, when a conversion to super critical plants would result in less than 2/3 of CO2 emissions for the same amount of power, by adopting modern technology. Once again, UK throws away the opportunity to be at the forefront of a technology, where the Chinese and Germans now lead the field. Same old story – just like the nuclear power industry.

    • March 26, 2016 9:14 pm

      CCGT produces about 40% of USC coal CO2, thanks to efficiency and combustion chemistry. CCGT can be load cycled much more than USC coal. Get fracking!

      • velcro permalink
        March 26, 2016 9:35 pm

        I agree CCGT is the best – provided you have the fuel, ie gas. Even if well bore stimulation (aka ‘fracking’) were allowed on a major scale today, it would take years to build up proven reserves sufficient to support new CCGT stations. But conversion to supercritical technology would allow the use of the adjacent coal fields, which is why stations like Drax were positioned where they were; and also makes use of the existing site and infrastructure

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      March 26, 2016 9:16 pm

      When it comes to energy policy in the UK it is The Gullible being led by the Blind.

  8. nzrobin permalink
    March 27, 2016 3:54 am

    I reckon that sequestration of CO2 is just one step away from sequestration of plant matter; depriving the world of a valuable raw material for the production of food.

    • spetzer86 permalink
      March 27, 2016 11:55 am

      The US government has a project underway to start sequestering climate skeptics. The costs of free speech are getting pretty high.

  9. March 27, 2016 10:04 am

    Thanks for bringing this too our attention Paul. Simple engineering and economics. Any neutral person would have seen this coming so no surprise here. But the real fight is to show there is no such thing as a greenhouse gas, despite all the support and theories, no one can demonstrate via observation or experiment that the greenhouse theory actually works, and without a greenhouse gas theory all the rest falls apart. The last atmospheric scientist to properly study the atmosphere (not trying to prove anything) discovered CO2 had very little to do with warming and when he presented is findings he was sacked. All of the above results from one simple falsehood that is beyond individuals to prove wrong and perfect for the elites to milk.

  10. It doesn't add up... permalink
    March 27, 2016 10:44 am

    Some other considerations about CCS:

    So it is with CCS: we know that we can put a million tonnes under the North Sea without too much difficulty. But we need to be storing billions of tonnes every year to make a difference with respect to climate change. And if we are to do that, we may not have the option of being too fussy about where we store it. Given this, it seems inevitable that at some point a future CCS site will run into geomechanical difficulties. We should be prepared for this eventuality.

    That is, the chance of and potential size of earthquakes increases as the volume stored does – and it can create cracks in the cap rock, potentially allowing an escape pathway for the gas, perhaps with the kind of consequences seen in the natural event at Lake Nyos

  11. CheshireRed permalink
    March 27, 2016 12:58 pm

    Only $40 billion, you say? A bargain. Our government will probably sell this to us as a green benefit without which we simply couldn’t possibly get by.

  12. Mike Williams permalink
    March 27, 2016 2:28 pm

    This plant does have a useful purpose…providing political cover for the Premier of Saskatchewan (Brad Wall). He is by far the most conservative and skeptical leader left in the game. He successfully cites this plant as an alternative to even worse alternatives (e.g. recently used it to fend off the federal government’s attempt at a national carbon tax). The best part is the media, eco-loonies, and left wing politicians refuse to point out the “no clothes” aspect of his position because they’d have to acknowledge carbon-capture is a non-starter.

  13. Don Keiller permalink
    March 27, 2016 2:45 pm

    Doesn’t this “pup” fall under some kind of fraudulent prospectus?
    Misleading the investors?
    Heads need to roll.

  14. March 27, 2016 3:41 pm

    Hi !

    We also struggle in France with woodsmoke (no regulation at all), we feel very lonely. Most of the French don’t take the problem seriously because “woodsmoke is natural/traditional, so it’s good”. You would really help us by showing that many people around the world struggle with that issue. Please add a comment in your langage on this video (subtitle) that would say for instance “I’m living in XXX and support a wood burning regulation, because wood smoke are dangerous”.

    Why should we regulate wood fire?

  15. Edmonotn Al permalink
    March 27, 2016 4:21 pm

    I am still waiting for empirical proof that CO2 is causing global warming, hence climate change.
    The GHG Theory is bunk. It is an hypothesis that has been debunked.
    CO2 emissions; CCS; “carbon” footprints; GHG emissions; whatever you wish to call it, is moot.
    For goodness sake, Arrhenius believed that space was Aether. This Aether was supposed to act like the glass of the real greenhouse. He was proven wrong back then, first by Fourier and then, when Michaelson-Morley debunked the “Space is Aether” belief.

  16. March 27, 2016 5:27 pm

    CCS works in the same way as a catalytic converter for cars needs extra fuel in order for them to work. Lean-burn engines are cleaner and more fuel efficient in 2.5 litre or smaller capacities but Germany had the market stranglehold on platinum so they pushed for the ‘cats’.

  17. Bloke down the pub permalink
    March 27, 2016 5:27 pm

    This is one of the things I always find most remarkable about arguments in favour of CCS. We are constantly told about the evils of pollution from coal plants (real pollution, not CO2), yet proponents of CCS want to burn even more coal, and thereby emit yet more pollution, just to run the CCS unit!

    This is an ideal situation according to Green logic and the likes of Jeremy Corbyn. You need loads of jobs for people digging the coal out of the ground, but you don’t put any nasties into the atmosphere. Actually producing any electricity would be seen as an unexpected bonus. Taken to its logical conclusion, they would prefer it if loads of people were employed digging the coal out of an hole in the ground, and loads more were employed to put it straight back again, without all that messy generation stuff going on in between.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      March 27, 2016 7:30 pm

      Don’t even suggest that to the current lot of politicians in the UK. They are quite likely to do just that because “wind and sun will supply our electricity”.

  18. J Martin permalink
    March 27, 2016 9:08 pm

    Should have built a Candu and put some Thorium and waste fuel in it, no need for CCS then.

    • dave permalink
      March 28, 2016 9:30 am

      “Should have built a Candu and put some Thorium…”

      I remember having lunch, fifty years ago at the Toronto Club, with the designer (W Boyd) of the Candu, and discussing this, having previously picked the idea up from Fred Hoyle, who wrote a book about the thorium cycle. He confirmed that part of the Candu concept was to breed fuel from Thorium. Amazingly, Winnett is still alive although forgotten!

      Fifty years ago, Canada was run by an interlocking elite of hard-boiled and hard-bitten Scots engineers and financiers. Not any more. That (early 1970’s) was just about the time the country started changing, and abandoned “robust, masculine, common sense” (as Bagehot defined the appropriate attitude for leaders of a country

  19. March 28, 2016 11:09 am

    The Allam cycle (CO2 used as the working fluid) may be more promising for CCS, it is built in to the power station from the start, not a bolt-on to existing plant:

  20. Vernon E permalink
    March 28, 2016 11:45 am

    Amidst all the problems still not a mention of the effects of the carry-over of noxious amine absorbent into the surroundings (caused by the very high volume of nitrogen leaving the absorber).

    • Henri_b permalink
      March 28, 2016 9:13 pm

      Norway cancelled their Mogstad CCS project because the amines could not be contained in the process. This after spending 500 million NKR. At the start of the project they compared it with the US moonlanding project. In the end it proved to be a very costly fiasco.

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