The world’s only carbon capture and storage installation on a large coal power plant failed to meet its CO2 capture target for 2021. The system caught 43% fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide last year compared with the year before, according to data from SaskPower – the company operating the project.
The Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Saskatchewan in Canada is the only coal power plant in the world to integrate carbon capture and storage system that takes the emissions from the lignite-fired Unit #3. Its target is to take away 90% of the CO2 emissions. The CCS installation also reduces the output of Unit 3 from 139 MW to 110 MW. The largest part of the captured emissions is used for the mature Weyburn Oil Field, for enhanced oil recovery.
SaskPower announced that the drop last year stems from challenges with the main CO2 compressor motor that has caused the carbon capture and storage facility to go offline for multiple months last year.
The company reported it went completely offline in August and September. Critics claim that given the CCS installation has been operational for around 10 months in 2021, it is trapping just a small fraction of the targeted emissions or less than half – 43% out of its 90% maximum capacity.
SaskPower has responded that the issues encountered with the compressor were “exceptional events” and that the company expects a higher capture rate for 2022.
“The recent unplanned outages are only ones we have ever had as a result of issues [with] the compressor/motor… SaskPower is conducting in-depth analyses to understand the root cause of these new equipment issues, and are putting plans and strategies in place to manage these risks moving forward,” said Joel Cherry, a SaskPower spokesperson.
Still, the company has reported in March 2021 that it had captured 4 million metric tons of CO2 since it started operation in 2014 – a quantity that is years behind schedule. The target of the project is to capture 1 million metric ton of CO2 per year.
According to records, back in 2015, 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 around 40% of the time. The low productivity of the CCS facility has also forced SaskPower to pay Cenovus – the company it sells the CO2 to for enhanced oil recovery, $12 million in penalties.
The failure of the carbon capture system to deliver the targeted emissions capture rates is an indication that CCS technologies are not working well in coal power plants. Therefore, that questions whether governments should continue to allow subsidies for the technology to be used in coal power plants.