Carbon capture projects a big gamble, according to scientists in the know

The individual pieces of a carbon capture and storage puzzle have been around for a while, but there’s a long way to go before those fragments can be assembled at a big enough scale and cheap enough to put a worthwhile dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

CALGARY — The individual pieces of a carbon capture and storage puzzle have been around for a while, but there’s a long way to go before those fragments can be assembled at a big enough scale and cheap enough to put a worthwhile dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

“At large scale it’s not been done, and we need to learn how to do it in a much more cost-effective manner,” said Eddy Isaacs, executive director of the Alberta Energy Research Institute.

The technology — which got a $865-million boost from the Alberta and federal governments last week — involves separating climate-change-causing carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and injecting the gas deep underground, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere.

Refineries, petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities have employed the “capture” part of the equation for some time, using special chemicals to scrub poisonous hydrogen sulphide and other contaminants from their emissions.

Methods of storing gasses are also well established. For instance, natural gas, used to heat most North American households during the winter, can be safely stored during the summer months when it’s not needed.

Projects like Shell’s serve as a stepping stone toward figuring out how to make the technology better, said AERI’s Isaacs.

“It’s learning by doing as opposed to doing paper studies,” he said. “The whole idea is to learn about the reservoir potential for carbon dioxide storage and what kind of volumes are you actually able to deliver on a commercial scale.”

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