In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at: .
This issue of the EIB focuses on recent news in Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS). Why? Well, for one, the International Energy Agency has stated that net zero isn’t possible without CCUS. It is also an area where Western Canada is a leader, hosting three of the 21 commercial CCUS facilities currently in operation globally (Boundary Dam, Quest and the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line). CCUS also represents a huge economic opportunity: a report by CMC Research Institutes and the Pembina Institute estimates the global carbon capture market could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. But CCUS still faces challenges, especially in its economics—a challenge you will see reflected in supportive funding described in almost all the stories below.
Here’s a quick round-up of some news happening on the capture, storage and utilization fronts:
1. COSIA Carbon XPRIZE winner announced
2. World’s richest man (contender) hops on the CCUS bandwagon
3. The U.S.’s 45Q carbon tax credit shows the carrot is better than the stick
4. Quest CCS: an early pioneer helps shape future CCS projects
5. Big 6 unveil CCS plan in the North Sea
6. Carbon fibre – the futuristic building material that could solve a crisis
7. Online store sells consumer goods with embedded CO2
COSIA Carbon XPRIZE winner announced
After a six-year competition, the winner of the COSIA Carbon XPRIZE was announced on April 19. Who won? More about that in a moment.
The COSIA Carbon XPRIZE was set up in 2015 as a way to stimulate “breakthrough technologies to convert CO2 emissions into usable products.” This focuses on a critical part of the CCUS equation, as stuffing CO2 into the ground is only feasible under specific geologic and economic conditions. Finding ways to instead turn it into a valuable commodity could change the economics of carbon removal substantially.
From a field of 46 candidates, 10 finalist teams were chosen from across the globe—including three in Canada. The “usable products” that the companies developed include ethyl alcohol (and from there: CO2-based vodka), bioplastics, fuels, batteries and construction materials. The $15M grand prize was awarded based on how much CO2 each team converted, and the net value of their products.
Two winners were announced on April 19: CarbonCure Technologies, based in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, and CarbonBuilt, based in Los Angeles. Both companies have created processes to sequester carbon in concrete, reducing emissions, minimizing other environmental impacts, and strengthening the product in the process.
Concrete is an enormous market for CO2 injection, as over 10 billion tons of concrete are produced globally each year. CarbonCure in particular has attracted notice, and is one of 51 Canadian companies on the Narwhal’s Unicorn list, companies on track to attain a valuation of over $1 billion.
World’s richest man (contender) hops on the CCUS bandwagon
In related news, futurist billionaire Elon Musk has teamed up with the XPRIZE organization for a new $100M “XPRIZE in Carbon Removal.” The prize focuses on developing CCUS technologies that remove carbon directly from the atmosphere and oceans (rather than using industrial emissions sources, as in the COSIA Carbon XPRIZE). Over the next four years, contestants must develop a working prototype capable of removing at minimum 1 ton of CO2 per day, and prove their solution can be economically scaled to gigaton levels. Beyond this, the ability to demonstrate energy efficiency and minimal environmental impacts during operation, and ideally provide permanent sequestration, will be looked upon favourably by judges.
With first, second, and third place winning $50M, $20M and $10M respectively, and significant milestone and scholarship prizes, this competition is sure to bring forth a wealth of new ideas to help in the fight against climate change. Full contest details will be released on April 22, 2021. Follow the contest here.
The U.S.’s 45Q carbon tax credit shows the carrot is better than the stick
Rather than attempting to curb emissions through taxes or penalties, Section 45Q of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code has taken the opposite approach—providing a performance-based tax credit for CO2 sequestration. Implemented in 2008 and since retooled in 2018, the tax credit offers $50 USD per metric tonne for CO2 that is disposed of in secure geologic storage and $35 USD per metric tonne for CO2 used for enhanced oil or natural gas recovery.
Between 2014 and 2018, an estimated 35 million tons of sequestered carbon was claimed, with industry heavy-hitters such as Exxon Mobil implementing projects to optimize on the tax credit. More than 30 new projects have been announced since Congress revamped the tax credit in early 2018—a change that could increase global carbon capture capacity by two-thirds. While carbon capture and sequestration efforts have thus far been mostly focused on coal and natural gas-powered power plants, the 45Q tax credit has encouraged sectors including ammonia and cement production to take a keener interest in exploring CCS technologies.
It seems like the carrot may be working better than the stick, a lesson that Canada has taken to heart with the federal government’s announcement in the new budget of a similar measure being developed for this country. For the more details on the 45Q tax credit, read here. For the tax credit’s effects on industry, read the full story here.
Quest CCS: an early pioneer helps shape future CCS projects
One of the major hurdles for new CCS projects is cost, and government funding is usually required to make major CCS projects a reality. Fortunately, previous government investment is resulting in lessons about how to bring down the cost of new CCS projects.
Shell Canada’s Quest CCS facility can be considered the “grand-daddy” of private-sector CCS projects in Canada. Since its launch on November 6, 2015, it has successfully captured and stored over five million tonnes of CO2—an achievement made more impressive by its completion four months ahead of schedule and substantially under budget. As part of the funding it received from the Alberta Government, Quest is required to participate in an annual knowledge-sharing program. This program ensures that the learnings from Quest are made publicly available and can be used to guide future CCS projects.
To give context to the value of these learnings, Shell has stated that were the facility to be built again, the cost of construction could be lowered by 30%. These lessons are already being put to work in the construction of the Northern Lights CCS project in Norway, and will no doubt continue to aid in the global development of CCS technology.
Big 6 unveil CCS plan in the North Sea
After decades of extracting fossil fuels from the North Sea, a partnership of some of the industry’s biggest players is developing a project to store emissions in saline aquifers beneath the seabed. The North Endurance Partnership (NEP) CCS project was formed by British oil and gas company BP, Italy’s state oil company Eni, Norway’s Equinor, National Grid, Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total. The project will transport CO2 from two industrial carbon capture projects on England’s northeast coast: the Net Zero Teesside and Zero Carbon Humber projects. If successful, the NEP would transport 17M tonnes of CO2 per year, and could decarbonize almost half of the UK’s industrial emissions—a major boost to the country’s climate ambitions. The two projects are planned to go live by 2026 and reach net zero as soon as 2030 through carbon capture, hydrogen and fuel-switching. Read about the project here.
While CCUS is considered in its infancy in the UK, the government is hoping to accelerate its development through a £1bn CCS Infrastructure Fund, to which this project has applied for funding. The NEP is likely to be the first and one of the largest—but certainly not the only—CCS project in the region.
Carbon fibre – the futuristic building material that could solve a crisis
Carbon fibre’s light weight, high tensile strength, and superior resistance to thermal change make it an attractive building material in many applications. Despite this, the use of carbon fibre is currently limited to high-end industries such as aerospace and luxury automobiles. Today, the high cost of manufacturing carbon fibre acts as a major barrier to entry in other industries; a barrier that Alberta Innovates and COSIA think the Alberta oilsands have a solution to. Carbon fibre’s hefty price tag is largely due to the use of expensive polyacrylonitrile feedstocks. By instead using asphaltenes—the heaviest and often rejected fraction of oilsands bitumen—the cost of manufacturing can be greatly reduced. This would enable the use of carbon fibre as a reinforcing agent in a wider range of products, including standard automobiles and aircraft, wind turbine blades, construction materials and consumer products.
Pairing Alberta’s access to this affordable feedstock with Ontario’s wealth of manufacturing experience could give Canada an incredible advantage in the carbon fibre industry. In addition to the economic upside, the utilization of oilsands bitumen as a non-combustible commodity results in avoided emissions while continuing to make use of Canada’s resources. Read about Alberta Innovates’ Carbon Fibre Grand Challenge here.
Online store sells consumer goods with embedded CO2
You, too, can be directly involved with CCUS! Expedition Air is an online store that sells consumer products made from captured CO2 emissions. What can you buy? Soap, soap dishes, coasters, planters, pens, crayons, a watch, a concrete worry stone—and even a painting created with paint that contains embedded carbon dioxide.
The company’s main source of carbon is CO2-enhanced nanoparticle powders, the end product of Carbon Upcycling’s use of Calgary’s Shepard Power Plant (as part of the COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition), where they make use of the plant’s emissions to generate up to eight tons of usable material per day.
As only a portion of each product is made from the captured carbon, the store applies carbon offsets to each purchase to balance out the non-CO2 materials, packaging and shipping. Offset packages can also be purchased to negate the emissions from common activities such as a weekend getaway, a year of binge-watching and web surfing, and even a year’s worth of avocado eating.
While small consumer goods are surely not the be-all-and-end-all solution to emissions management, companies like Expedition Air offer an easily accessible avenue for the average customer to participate in carbontech.
The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Marla Orenstein. This month’s edition features contributions by Marla Orenstein, Brendan Cooke, Jamie Gradon and Marissa Dimmell. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .