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:
In this month’s roundup of energy innovation news:
1. Canada’s largest battery might be a lake
2. Elevators for algae
3. Innovative tech makes the best of a high-pressure situation
4. Another first for Western Canadian carbon storage
5. Canada takes the driver’s seat in the battery revolution
Canada’s largest battery might be a lake
In southern Ontario, TC Energy is developing a pumped hydro storage facility that will soon be Canada’s largest battery. When you think batteries, you probably don’t think of lakes—but you should. Pumped hydro storage makes up roughly 96% of global energy storage capacity and remains the best solution for utility scale long term storage.
The proposed project just outside the town of Meaford will use baseload power from the Bruce Power nuclear reactors to pump water from Georgian Bay to an upper reservoir. From there, the water can be released as needed back into the bay, passing through turbines along the way and turning the stored energy into electricity. The facility will ultimately produce up to 1 GW of electricity and have a storage capacity of 8 GWh — which is enough to power roughly a million homes for eight hours. The project is expected to bring over $4 billion in investment to the region and create upwards of 1,000 jobs during construction.
For a country that produces over 60% of its electricity from hydro resources, Canada has very little pumped hydro storage. Currently the only hydro storage facility in operation is the 175MW Sir Adam Beck Pump Generating Station (also in Ontario), although others are planned. The TC Meaford facility could bring more attention to how pumped hydro could be used as a flexible, dispatchable, and emissions-free storage solution across the country.
Elevators for algae
Algae are a remarkably renewable resource, whose stored chemical energy can be extracted and converted to biodiesel, ethanol and even jet fuel. And compared to terrestrial biofuel sources, algae grow up to ten times faster, produce higher yields and do so in places that are unsuitable for other crops. This is important as the production of biofuels raises concerns about competition with food production, fresh water and agricultural land.
Although algae need only sunlight, carbon dioxide and water, they thrive only under certain conditions. Kelp—the fastest-growing algae—requires sunlight found in shallow waters but also nutrient-rich substrates found in deep waters. A team of scientists at the University of Southern California Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies has attempted to solve this conundrum by creating a system that provides algae with both environments. In the study, scientists attached wild algae to a “kelp elevator” and positioned it close to the surface during the day for sunlight and then lowered it to allow the algae to absorb nutrients found in deeper waters at night – a method known as depth-cycling. Results after 100 days of daily exposure to this system demonstrated a fourfold increase in algae production.
Improvement in cultivation methods, such as being able to control the optimal conditions under which algae grow, will help producers achieve larger economies of scale. And although algal biomass may not yet be cost competitive with fossil fuels, innovations like the kelp elevator are pushing algae use to new heights.
Innovative tech makes the best of a high-pressure situation
What if we could get even more energy from natural gas delivery, without any added emissions?
Transporting natural gas through pipes to reach houses, factories and power plants wastes a lot of energy. The gas moves long distances in high-pressure pipelines, but regulating stations need to reduce the pressure to levels appropriate for end-users. What happens to that extra energy? Right now, nothing.
However, Anax Power has come up with a way to recoup some of the energy lost in the process. The company’s Anax Turboexpander (ATE) uses the pressure and flow of gas within the pipeline to spin a turbine – similar to how water spins turbines in a hydroelectric plant – generating carbon-free power. This innovative method increases the energy value derived from a given volume of gas without increasing environmental impact, thereby providing a slightly bigger energy bang for the same emissions buck. And, with Emissions Reductions Alberta funding a demonstration project, we may see results soon.
Another first for Western Canadian carbon storage
Alberta may soon be home to the North American cement industry’s first full-scale carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project. The project will be Western Canada’s third trailblazing achievement in the carbon capture industry, following Shell’s Quest facility (the world’s first CCS use on an oilsands upgrader) and the Boundary Dam 3 (the world’s first use of CCS at a commercial power plant).
Following a two year, $3 million feasibility study—funded in part by Emissions Reduction Alberta—Lehigh Cement has announced it will be collaborating with Enbridge on a CCS project at its Edmonton cement plant. Once operational, the facility will use technology from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to capture an expected 780,000 tonnes CO2 annually—the equivalent of taking 170,000 vehicles off the road. The Lehigh project will ultimately form part of Enbridge’s proposed Open Access Wabamun Carbon Hub. In addition to Lehigh, the Wabamun hub also has the support of Capital Power, which will use the hub to sequester over 3 million tonnes of emissions annually from its Edmonton-area power plants.
Cross-industry collaboration like this shows the potential of Alberta’s carbon hub strategy to identify synergies and promote further innovation in CCS technology. While CCS is most frequently deployed alongside oil and gas operations, hard to abate industries such as cement and steel production can benefit just as much. And with another round of Request for Proposals expected from the Alberta government this spring, we are likely to see even more industrial applications of carbon capture in the near future.
Canada takes the driver’s seat in the battery revolution
The electric vehicle (EV) craze has fueled a lithium battery gold rush and as a result the demand for energy critical materials such as lithium, cobalt, selenium and silicon has skyrocketed. Now, researchers are increasingly exploring tellurium – a rare mining by-product derived from copper, iron and other rich ore bodies – as a safer, longer-lasting and more powerful alternative to conventional materials. Some studies have found that adding tellurium to batteries has made them 30 times more efficient at charging due to their superior electrical conductivity and also extended battery life up to 400%.
Canada is in an excellent position to take advantage of the tellurium opportunity as it has the fourth largest tellurium reserves in the world. The Tellurium Boosted Li-S Batteries for Zero-Emission Vehicles is a joint initiative between the University of British Columbia (UBC), UBC Okanagan, and the University of Victoria with the goal of accelerating the use of and economic value derived from tellurium. Similarly, Canadian company First Tellurium Corp received a permit last year to explore tellurium deposits in British Columbia with exploration beginning this summer.
With efforts to bring the battery supply chain closer to home, China – which is home to 73% of lithium manufacturing capacity – may not be in the EV driver’s seat for too long.