Alberta couldn’t do it — but Saskatchewan did. Today it’s home to the world’s first carbon capture and storage (CCS) operation at a coal-fired power plant.
Alberta approved three coal-based CCS projects and saw proponents back away from all of them. Meanwhile, SaskPower completed its $1.5-billion CCS unit at the Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in 2014 and now captures 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to removing 250,000 cars from the road. Captured carbon dioxide is mostly injected into Weyburn and Midale oil reservoirs; earning a revenue on CCS, boosting oil production, prolonging oilfield life and raising provincial crude royalties.
While some jurisdictions, notably Ontario, have turned their backs on carbon-heavy coal, Saskatchewan is making the technical and environmental case for continued use of a resource that provides about 70 per cent of its electric power.
“It enables the continuation of coal use in the generation of electric power,” says David Grier, chief strategist with Innovation Saskatchewan. Without CCS, he says, new carbon dioxide limits could have spelled the end of coal mining in the province.
The project also stands as a testament to Saskatchewan’s commitment to innovation and support for its mining industry.
But it takes more than motherlodes of ore to become a mining giant, says Engin Özberk, executive director of the new Saskatoon-based International Minerals Innovation Institute (IMII).
Özberk says Saskatchewan needed mining-specific education and research — and that required systematic, industry-led planning and development. The provincial government and leading mining companies agreed and in 2012 they announced the formation of the Saskatoon-based IMII.
Saskatchewan has world-class reserves of potash and uranium mines that are based on “incomparably richer ore bodies” than anywhere else in the world, Özberk says.
Still, for long-term success in hyper-competitive world markets, he says Saskatchewan must develop a mining culture, turning out homegrown engineers, scientists and technologists equal to the best in the world, while conducting research that gives the province’s mining companies renewable cost advantages.
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