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Carbon Capture Test Facility opens

Last piece of CCS puzzle now in place

Estevan – The last piece of Saskatchewan’s carbon capture strategy has fallen into place, with the grand opening of the Carbon Capture Test Facility (CCTF) on June 18.

The facility is designed to test carbon capture technologies, specifically different amine solutions used to capture carbon dioxide, in a real-world environment, connected to an operating coal-fired power station. It has been built as part of a joint venture between SaskPower and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems.

The CCTF is the final component among numerous projects encompassing all phases of the carbon capture and storage life cycle. First, for the last 15 years the Weyburn-Midale greenhouse gas project has been injecting carbon dioxide into the depleted oilfields operated by Cenovus and Apache. In 2014, the SaskPower Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage project went into operation. It is the first commercial scale coal-fired generating unit and associated full-scale capture plant of its type in the world. That project also feeds the Cenovus-operated Weyburn Unit with CO2.

In May the Aquistore project held its ribbon cutting. That $30 million research project is designed to take additional CO2 from the Boundary Dam project and inject it into deep saline aquifers.

With the completion of the $70 million CCTF, southeast Saskatchewan’s role as a centre of excellence for carbon capture and storage is now complete, with a large-scale research facility for carbon capture research. This is not lab bench testing, but real-world application of technologies whose next step will hopefully be commercial usage.

Representatives from 20 countries on the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum attended the grand opening. It is a global group of policy makers who meet biannually to discuss CCS potential around the world. Dignitaries on hand from Mitsubishi Hitachi and SaskPower spoke of the project’s importance, as did Premier Brad Wall via a recorded video. Wall is credited as the person who got the project going.

“We’ve captured hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide and produced electricity serving about 100,000 homes and businesses; electricity together with very low CO2 emissions. This is a very, very good thing,” SaskPower president and CEO Mike Marsh said about the Boundary Dam project. 

“Today, we’re celebrating the launch of the Carbon Capture Test Facility. Using much the same processes as our Boundary Dam Project, this facility was designed to allow companies from around the world to test and develop their new carbon capture technologies. That means not only are we leading the way here in Saskatchewan, we plan on leading and supporting the next generation of carbon capture technology. For us that means more reliable, affordable coal power in our generation mix, and in a way that’s also environmentally sustainable.

“Worldwide, this could mean a real solution to curb greenhouse gas emissions and really make a dent in global climate change,” Marsh said.

Marsh was personally working at the Boundary Dam Power Station at the time Shand Power Station was being built 25 years ago. “For those that don’t know, Shand was the most environmentally clean, environmentally responsible power station of its kind in Canada when it was commissioned in 1992. Today we’re here, opening the Carbon Capture Test Facility, continuing down that journey to clean up emissions from facilities that burn coal. I think it’s a very proud day for everybody.”

Marsh spoke of the collaboration with SaskPower’s partner, Mitsubishi Hitachi. They will be the first company to use the facility, with 8,000 hours of running time, or roughly 14 months, scheduled.

The CCTF began operations in April.

Yasuo Fujitani, senior executive vice president at MHPS, said, “I believe the CCTF project would not be realized without strong government support.”

He thanked both the provincial government and Crown Investment Corporation.

Fujitani noted the main equipment for the facility was fabricated by MHPS Canada.

“SaskPower can now offer access to this unique facility for companies to develop and test carbon capture and storage [CCS] technologies,” said Premier Brad Wall, who appeared via a recorded video. “This will continue to bring international interest to Saskatchewan and give us prime access to the next generation of CCS innovation.”

Wall noted a “tradition of innovation,” which includes nuclear medicine, biotechnology, crop science, and now, in carbon capture and storage.

“Over the last 15 years, Saskatchewan has emerged as a world leader in CCS research,” he said, noting the Weyburn-Midale Project and Boundary Dam 3. “Today, we’re going to begin a brand new chapter, with the opening of the SaskPower Carbon Capture Test Facility at Shand Power Station – the CCTF. This facility will be the first of its kind on the planet. It will give companies from across the globe the opportunity to test their own technology, their own next-generation carbon capture technology, in the real-world setting of a working, commercial coal fired-power plant. We’re going to take the lead to improve processes and widen the range of CCS technology available for large-scale projects.”

Wall acknowledged the partnership of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems.

“It is a partnership we value,” he said, thanking them for their vision and diligence.

“It’s fitting this is an international partnership, because what we face today is an international challenge. Renewable energy is important, but the reality is the world will rely on fossil fuel energy – oil, natural gas, coal – for some time to come.”

“This is particularly true in Asia, the fastest growing region in the world. Today in China they are building a new coal-fired power plant every 10 days.”

“How do we dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions without bringing our economies to a halt? That’s the question before us. The answer, at least in part, is carbon capture and storage,” Wall said.

Mike Monea, SaskPower’s president, Carbon Capture & Storage Initiatives, noted, “The premier was the one, really, that had the original vision of creating a test facility.”

Construction on the project began July 22, 2013. Harsh winters and flooding while foundation work was being done resulted in delays in completion, as well as a shortage of labour. This was particularly felt as the emphasis was to complete the Boundary Dam 3 project, which was concurrently under construction for much of the same time. As a result, the initial budget of $60 million grew to $70 million.

Graham Construction was the prime contractor on the CCTF.


The CCTF is a modular facility, where many individual parts can be isolated, modified and operated to test specific carbon capture technologies. There are sophisticated measurement tools and a data system which continually records operating conditions at numerous locations. There is a laboratory at the front of the building for regular testing of amine samples. Companies will be able to track how their particular technology performs over time and in response to realistic commercial operating conditions.

For instance, while nearly all the vessels and piping within the facility are made of very expensive stainless steel, portions of the carbon dioxide absorber are made of conventional carbon steel. This was done to see if such facilities could be built much less expensively.

The plant itself captures a slipstream of exhaust gas from the induced draft fan ducts of the primary power plant. The total volume of flue gas diverted is approximately two per cent of the flue gas stream.

It travels horizontally through a 30 inch stainless steel pipe into the CCTF. There it goes through a flue gas desulphurizer scrubber which removes all the sulphur dioxide. “It works very, very well,” said Kevin Beck, construction supervisor, during a tour of the facility.

From there the flue gas passes through the nine-story-tall absorber, with the gas going up as amine comes down. The amine captures the carbon dioxide. The remaining gas, now largely free of CO2, is vented to atmosphere and amine proceeds to the desorber, another tall, vertical vessel. There the carbon dioxide flashes off the amine and the amine is used again.

A series of heat exchangers are used throughout the process. Process steam is also piped over to reboiler from the principal power plant to reheat the amine to start the sequence over again, and there are two 16-inch lines, one bringing cooling water into the facility and the second returns it to the cooling ponds.

A reflex drum is used as a final process to cleanse the exhaust CO2 of any remaining amine before the CO2 leaves the building. Since this is a test facility, they are not retaining any of the captured CO2. It is vented to the atmosphere through a port at the top of the building.

“We’re testing, not recovering it,” Beck said. “It’s only a test facility.”

There is also a reclaimer for periodic treatment of the amine, returning it to its original state.

The plant operators work day shifts during the week at large banks of computer screens. On evenings and weekend, the operation of the CCTF is taken care of by the main control room within the Shand Power Station.

A total of 120 tonnes of CO2 is captured per day by the CCTF. This compares to the roughly 3,000 tonnes per day the Boundary Dam project is expected to capture at full capacity.

While no company has yet signed on for using the facility once Mitsubishi Hitachi is done their initial 8,000 hours of testing, Monea expects the facility to be used for many years to come.