Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Failure of Clean Coal

Despite billions of dollars in investments it would appear that clean coal is an expensive pipe-dream that is not delivering results. Clean coal technology has been plagued with cost overruns and it has been shown to be far less effective at sequestering carbon than its supporters had promised. Independent assessments also suggest that it is proving to be a financial boondoggle.

The Canadian province of Saskatchewan has the first full sized coal fired plant that captures and stores emissions. This heavily subsidized clean coal project, is known as the Boundary Dam Power Station which is run by the province's utility monopoly SaskPower. The one and a half billion dollar price tag of the plant was shouldered by Canadian tax payers and SaskPower customers.

Carbon sequestration is ostensibly intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, one of the greatest ironies associated with the project is the fact that it is being used to produce more climate change causing fossil fuels. The captured carbon dioxide is compressed into liquid form and transported through a pipeline to Cenovus Energy's Weyburn oil field where it is used to boost oil production.

The sulfur dioxide captured in the process is turned into sulfuric acid and sold for industrial use and fly ash is also captured and sold for industrial use. Even if we tally up the sale of energy, liquid carbon, sulfuric acid and fly ash, the numbers do not justify the expense.

A financial analysis of the plant’s operations indicate that it operates at a substantial loss. The project has exceeded initial cost forecasts (initial estimates were $1.2 billion but its actual costs is $1.47 billion). Over the 30-year life of the plant it is expected to net out at a $1,042 million loss. Subtract that $391 million profit from the boiler from the $1,042 million loss from the CCS facility and you get a $651 million net financial loss for SaskPower customers.

Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that the amount of carbon sequestered is far lower than the amount promised. While SaskPower says the plant will capture 30-million tonnes of CO2 (90 percent of its carbon emissions) during its lifetime they overestimate the plants abilities by almost one third or 10 million tonnes. However, more than 10 percent of that ( 3.3-million tonnes) will be lost in the capture process. An additional 28 percent (9-million tonnes) will be lost during processing of the CO2/crude mix recovered from the Weyburn oil field. The net carbon savings will be only 17.7 million tonnes. This translates to a cost of $100 per tonne of sequestered carbon.

As pointed out in the assessment a similar investment in renewable energy like wind power makes much more financial sense. 

Even industry insiders like Enbridge have already withdrawn from the farce of carbon capture. The technology is not viable but it is being kept alive by politicians and business interests who are hell bent on finding devious ways of extending the life of the coal industry.

Related
The Farce of Canada's Carbon Capture
Canada is Banking on Carbon Capture to Offset Tar Sands

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