To maintain its “carbontech” leadership, Canada needs a price on carbon and focused strategies, say experts

Mark Lowey
September 18, 2019

Canada and particularly Alberta are global leaders in developing technologies to capture industrial carbon emissions and turn them into valuable products and applications, speakers told the 13th Carbon Dioxide Utilization Summit in Calgary (September 11-12).

But to maintain its leadership in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) innovation, Canada needs: 1) an ongoing price on carbon, 2) federal and provincial CCUS strategies, and 3) supportive government policies to help companies grow the CCUS industry here, speakers argued. The International Energy Agency and other organizations say widespread deployment of CCUS technologies is crucial to reducing global-warming greenhouse gas emissions and preventing catastrophic climate change this century.

“Canada is among the world leaders in terms of CCUS project experience,” Jason Switzer, executive director of the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance, told the conference, presented by Active Communications International, headquartered in the UK.

Canada accounts for about 40 million tonnes of all the industrial carbon in the world (230 million tonnes) that has been captured and “sequestered” (permanently stored in underground geological formations) since the start of the CCUS industry in the early 1970s, Switzer noted. Canada also is home to about one in 20 of the world’s active carbon utilization ventures, projects or pilots, and one in 12 patents globally, he said. “We’re punching well above our weight.”

“But we really do need to be concerned about other countries moving faster,” Switzer added. “China, the EU, Japan, the U.S. are going to drive a lot of investment in this space — and the entrepreneurs are watching. Canada will miss the bus if we can’t get off the fence.”

The worldwide market for carbon dioxide (CO2)-based products could grow to US$800 billion annually by 2030, according to a CCUS priorities and pathways report by CMC Research Institutes and the Pembina Institute.

The “Alberta advantage” in CCUS

Alberta has numerous advantages for supporting and growing a CCUS industry, David Van Den Assem, senior manager of clean technology at Alberta Innovates, told the conference. They include an abundance of industrial carbon emissions, existing pipeline infrastructure, a highly skilled workforce, the right geology for sequestering CO2 and using it for enhanced oil recovery, and two of the world’s largest commercial-scale CCUS oilfield projects.

Calgary is home to CMC Research Institutes, which has a CO2 Containment and Monitoring Institute with a field research station in southern Alberta, and a Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute with a technology testing facility in Richmond, B.C.

“We have a tremendous amount of experience, resources, skills and facilities that we can leverage to help project ourselves further onto the world stage,” Van Den Assem said.

Alberta also will soon have the world’s largest pipeline network dedicated to transporting and utilizing CO2. The $1.2-billion Alberta Carbon Trunk Line is built, owned and operated by Calgary-based Wolf Carbon Solutions, in partnership with Enhance Energy. “It will be up and operating by the end of (this) year,” Jeff Pearson, president of Wolf Carbon Solutions, told the conference. The project received about $495 million from the Alberta government and $63 million from Natural Resources Canada.

The 240-km-long pipeline will have an annual capacity of 14.6 million tonnes of CO2, or equivalent to removing every car in Alberta from the road. The line will initially capture CO2 from the Sturgeon heavy oil refinery (a joint venture by North West Refining and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.) and from the Nutrien fertilizer plant – both near Edmonton. The CO2 then will be transported 200 km south for use in enhanced oil recovery-sequestration operations.

Carbon XPRIZE spurring new technologies

Alberta is also a focus for the COSIA NRG Carbon XPRIZE, co-sponsored by Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. Next spring, the $20-million international competition will award $7.5 million “grand prizes” each to two teams for their groundbreaking technologies to turn industrial CO2 emissions into profitable products and applications. Four of the 10 finalist teams are Canadian.

Five teams are currently testing their technologies at the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre, opened last year in Calgary. Operated by InnoTech Alberta, the facility — which received $10 million each from the Alberta and federal governments — is one of a few places in the world where carbon conversion technologies can be tested at commercial scale.

Four finalist teams – CERT (University of Toronto); C2CNT (Virginia, with an office in Calgary); Carbon Upcycling Technologies (Calgary); and CarbonCure Technologies (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) – represented at the Carbon Dioxide Utilization Summit said they’re attracting investment funding and strategic partners.

Jennifer Wagner, executive vice-president of corporate development at CarbonCure, which uses CO2 to produce “greener” and stronger concrete, said the company recently secured a strategic round of investment led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The investor-led fund is backed by a billionaires’ group that includes Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson and Bill Gates. In August, CarbonCure partnered with Linde, the world’s largest industrial gas supplier, to introduce CarbonCure’s technology to Europe, Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Apoorv Sinha, CEO and founder of Carbon Upcycling, which received $600,000 from Natural Resources Canada’s Energy Innovation Program, said his company has partnered with Los Angeles-based Newlight Technologies, another Carbon XPRIZE finalist, to produce a high-performance CO2-based plastic.

Alex Ip, team lead of CERT, whose technology converts CO2 into fuels and other valuable products, said the team has received funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the University of Toronto, and has a strategic industry partner, XEROX Research Centre of Canada in Mississauga.

Government’s role

“The public sector has a key role to play in developing the CCUS industry and the technologies at every stage,” Marcius Extavour, executive director and energy lead at the XPRIZE foundation, told the conference. He named four strategies:

  • providing early-stage R&D funding;
  • being an early customer of CCUS technologies through direct procurement and procurement standards that encourage carbon-based materials;
  • helping create industrial roadmaps; and
  • bringing together and galvanizing stakeholders.

Mark Summers, executive director of technology and innovation at Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA), noted that the not-for-profit funding organization’s “Grand Challenge: Innovative Carbon Uses” competition offers up to $35 million for the most innovative technologies that convert CO2 emissions into new carbon-based products and markets. ERA will announce the grand winner, to be awarded up to $10 million, at its Spark conference Oct. 28-30 in Edmonton.

It is vital for government to invest in pre-commercial technology, as the then-provincial government of Peter Lougheed did in the 1970s in driving development of oil sands bitumen extraction technology, Summers said. “Government’s role is to partner with industry on technology development, to share the risks and rewards of innovation.”


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