Can “Stranded” Fossil Fuel Reserves Drive Carbon Dioxide Capture?

by Emil Morhardt

Last week The Guardian ran a nice piece about the Boundary Dam power plant in Canada, the world’s first carbon-capture coal-fired power plant. The plant is in something of a specialized situation particularly suitable for such an operation—it has a large nearby source of coal, and it has a use for the captured CO2—injecting it into local oil fields to increase oil recovery.

Victoria Clark and Howard Herzog at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used the Boundary Dam project as an example in a just-published paper examining the possibility that, should the world decide to cut back on CO2 emissions, the unused “stranded” fossil fuels might still be burned safely.

According to Clark and Herzog, in addition to having a 300-year supply of coal close at hand that the power company did not want to abandon, and being able to sell the captured CO2, the Boundary Dam project was driven by Canadian regulations that required emission of no more than 420 tonnes of CO2 per GWh of electricity production—a limit that could not be achieved using the local lignite coal without capturing some of the CO2. In addition, the plant was already in existence so retrofitting one of the 110 MW units, as they did, was less expensive than starting from scratch, and the Canadian government subsidized an estimated 20–30% of the capital costs.

So, the fact that there was a large potentially stranded fossil fuel supply (because of government regulations preventing its use without carbon capture) was a consideration in causing SaskPower to do the project, without a purchaser for the CO2, or the government subsidies, it might not have happened. Clark and Herzog also note that by restricting CO2 release only from coal-fired power plants (as is currently the case in Canada), there is a greater likelihood of switching to natural gas and abandoning coal, rather than cleaning it up.

Clark, V.R., Herzog, H.J., 2013. Can “stranded” fossil fuel reserves drive CCS deployment? Energy Procedia 00 (2013) 000–000 Full paper at: http://sequestration.mit.edu/pdf/2014_EnergyProcedia_GHGT12_Clark-Herzog.pdf

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