In an era of various world leaders setting legally binding net zero emissions targets in an attempt to stave off financial and environmental catastrophe, Canada may be becoming a trendsetter in not only carbon pricing but also revolutionary carbon capture technology. The Great White North has not only started making big steps towards a goal of net zero emissions by 2050 through Federal Bill C-12, but has also recently released a plan for the country’s green future. “As we live with the immediate threat of COVID-19, it can be a challenge to see the opportunity for the future of our planet and economy.” begins the report, penned by Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson. The Minister goes on to state that the plan entitled  ‘A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy’ will seek to “mobilize the full breadth of Canada’s ingenuity and resources to reimagine a future that is secure, just and clean”. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off proceedings at the end of 2020 by announcing a brand new carbon pricing plan which will evolve over the next decade and the snowy state has intensified its implementation of market driven tech like carbon capture and storage (CCS)

But exactly what steps is the country taking to reach such a lofty goal, is increasing the price of carbon economically viable, and what part does carbon capture play in the future of our environment?

What is carbon capture and storage?

CCS is, simply put, a way in which we can capture and contain CO2 outputs so that they don’t affect the atmosphere, and the excess carbon can even be used in a way that doesn’t desimate the environment.

According to the Global CCS Institute, carbon capture is the building block on which the path to zero emissions is built, but requires a lot more input globally for it to succeed. In one of their recent reports, the institute commended Canada for getting the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL) up and running after over a decade of planning. The ACTL works by capturing industrial CO2 emissions from the North West Redwater Sturgeon refinery and the Nutrien Redwater fertiliser facility before compressing the gas and transporting it over 240 kilometers to Alberta. Here it is used for enhanced oil recovery and then permanently stored. The ACTL can be used to transport over 14.6 metric tonnes of CO2 a year and was constructed at a cost of approximately CAN$ 900 million.

It is projects like the ACTL that are the backbone of carbon capture and storage, and will potentially shape the way in which we view carbon in the future. Just last year there were a few important milestones passed in Canada across the world. The Shell Quest facility, which captures CO2 from a hydrogen production unit at the Scotford refinery in Alberta reported over 5 Mt of CO2 stored over the past five years and the Petrobras Santos Basin CCS facility announced that it had just passed the 14 Mt mark.

How is Canada tackling carbon usage?

For starters Canada is imposing strict federal carbon pricing plans across the country which began  taxing CO2 at $50/ton in 2020, and will continue to increase that figure by $15 yearly until 2030 where organisations will be taxed a whopping $170/ton. These figures are far above the estimates given by the Carbon Pricing Leadership Commision and really show Canada’s commitment to reaching their net-zero objectives. But can a country which relies on oil and gas for roughly 10% of its economy really afford to out-price carbon?

With numerous infrastructure changes, as well as gigantic investments into sustainable energy it’s definitely looking like a possibility. In preparation to phase out CO2 emissions, Canada is pumping as much funding as possible into clean energy research, design and development and committed CAD$775 million to the betterment of clean energy technology last year alone. In conjunction with the Canadian Infrastructure Bank, Canada has a growth plan in place which will invest $10 billion into the economy, including:

  • $2.5 billion for clean power to support renewable generation and storage
  • $2 billion to invest in large-scale building retrofits to increase energy efficiency
  • $1.5 billion to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission buses and charging  infrastructure

What is the future of carbon capture and storage?

CCS is definitely still considered a fledgeling technology, but with some analysts predicting that carbon capture utilisation could grow to the same size as the present oil industry, generating US$800 billion in value annually. Its potential ranges from the production of chemical feedstocks and catalysts to the cultivation of algae and even geothermal heating.

It isn’t just the utilisation of captured carbon that is relevant to the future of CCS however. Capturing carbon is expensive and at points inefficient. But with developments in direct air capture (DAC) and the effectiveness of current CCS methods being focused on by countries such as Canada, the future is definitely hopeful for not only reaching carbon neutral status, but also obtaining carbon negative status as well. 

Could we currently be witnessing Canada launching what could become the world’s most effective green plan? It’s entirely possible. With Canada being one of the largest producers of oil and gas on the planet, the direction in which they choose to go will almost certainly shape the future of sustainability. Where CCS technologies do represent a promising solution to the CO2 problem, there is definitely still a long way to go and continued research and development both in the present and in the future is vital. With a tiered carbon cost structure being rolled out over the next decade, Canada is staving off financial ruin, and will hopefully go hand in hand with burgeoning CCS technologies. 

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