Canadian Fuels member refinery makes history with the world’s first oil sands carbon capture project

nov. 13, 2015  

Canada’s refining industry took another giant step into a lower-emissions future Nov. 6, when Shell and its partners opened the Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in Alberta.

Innovative technology, developed over several years, has made Quest possible. It is now part of the bitumen upgrader at Scotford, near Fort Saskatchewan. Testing began in September, and has already taken over 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the environment.

The massive project, which employed 2,000 people and cost $1.35 billion, will capture and store over a million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. That’s equal to the emissions produced by 250,000 cars annually, and 35 per cent of the upgrader’s emissions.

“Canada and Shell have very good reason to feel some pride in Quest and we invite the world to follow,” said Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, at the opening ceremony.

CCS is not a silver bullet, he said, but is part of the solution in reducing the effects of global warming.

Built with financial help from the Alberta and federal governments, Quest is the world’s first oil sands CCS project, and the second CCS project in Canada. The other is located in Saskatchewan at Boundary Dam, where emissions from coal-fired power are captured.

How carbon capture technology works

The CCS project separates CO2 from other compounds during the upgrading process with the help of chemicals called amines. The CO2 is compressed, and then shipped in liquid form by pipeline to a facility at Thorhild County, 65 kilometers north of the upgrader. There, it is injected 2.3 kilometers into the earth, where is it permanently stored.

Shell has decades of experience in understanding rock formations, and the basal Cambrian Sandstone formation that lies deep under much of Alberta is ideal for CO2 storage. In the sandstone are many layers of impermeable rock formations, which act as a seal so the CO2 cannot escape.

Petroleum fuels needed for decades

Refineries are taking emission reduction very seriously. Alternative transportation fuels are increasingly being developed, but petroleum-based fuels will remain important for decades.

Shell Canada president Lorraine Mitchelmore said Quest represents a big step forward for the energy industry.

“Lower-carbon forms of energy will always continue to play a greater role in our lives, but as long as hydrocarbons are demanded, we — you, all of us — have a responsibility to reduce CO2 emissions in our hydrocarbons,” Mitchelmore said. “At Shell, we know that we must play a part.”

According to the International Energy Agency, CCS could potentially remove 17 per cent of the world’s CO2 mitigation goals by 2050.

Van Beurden said Shell wants to share its knowledge around carbon capture and storage, and hopes that there will be more similar projects coming onstream, “so that we as an industry and as society can go onto the learning curve and really start using this technology to make a difference in the future.”

Brian Ahearn, the Canadian Fuels Association’s vice-president, western division, attended the opening of Quest.

“This is a very important advance for Shell, and for the entire refining industry in Canada,” said Ahearn. “We expect fossil fuels to be a crucial part of the energy mix for decades to come. Therefore, we need to continue working toward reducing CO2 emissions.”

Find out more about the Quest project, and how refineries are reducing GHG emissions and working on making cleaner gasoline.

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