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A northwest Edmonton cement plant will be the first in North America… test whether carbon capture and storage can meaningfully reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon, who is banking on technology being Alberta’s primary solution to rising greenhouse gas emissions, announced Emissions Reduction Alberta will contribute $1.4 million to a $3-million feasibility study at the Lehigh Cement plant.

“This project is good for the environment and good for the economy,” Nixon said, sporting a blue hard hat and yellow vest inside one of the plant’s buildings on Thursday. “Our government has said from the beginning that technology and innovation are the key pathways for meaningful action on climate change and managing emissions.”

Although Emissions Reduction Alberta’s current funding would have been collected under the former NDP government’s Climate Leadership Program, Nixon said the cement plant experiment is the kind of project that will be funded by the United Conservative Party’s new industrial carbon tax.

On Jan. 1, the new Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program will kick in, changing the way large emitters pay to pollute in Alberta.

Emissions Reduction Alberta chose to fund the Lehigh project because it is a “home run,” president Steve MacDonald said, pointing to the potential implications for industry in Alberta and across the globe.

Carbon capture’s mixed results

The project is a partnership with Saskatchewan’s International CCS Knowledge Centre — a SaskPower non-profit spinoff that played a major role in designing and implementing carbon capture at the Boundary Dam coal plant near Estevan, Sask.

The technology has not always worked as expected. SaskPower spent $1.5 billion retrofitting the existing coal plant and had hoped to prevent one million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year. After four years, it had snagged about half of that, and the plant was often down for repairs.

Nowadays, Boundary Dam’s carbon capture is running at about 94 per cent efficiency, said Beth Hardy, vice-president, strategy and stakeholder relations for the Regina-based International CCS Knowledge Centre.

Hardy said a chemical process inside an industrial plant’s stack acts like a filter, which siphons carbon dioxide gas, as well as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, away from other emissions. The chemicals are converted into a liquid state, transported through a pipeline and pumped underground.

The case for cement

About eight per cent of global emissions come from the cement industry, Hardy said. If the project is successful in capturing the expected 90 per cent of emissions, it would be the equivalent of removing 104,000 cars from the road for a year.

If it works, the technology could have profound implications in developing countries like China and India, where population growth is driving up cement production. There’s no other way to reduce the emissions from cement production, she said.

The Edmonton plant is a great test site, she said, because it’s near another piece of carbon capture infrastructure — the Alberta carbon trunk line. The provincial carbon pricing program also makes it attractive, she said. Larger plants also offer the chance to divert more emissions from the atmosphere, should the project work.

The feasibility study involves hunting around for the right technology to use, finding vendors, then engineering and design. It could be about three years until construction is underway at the Lehigh plant, she said.

Determining the cost of project construction is part of the feasibility work, but Hardy said it should be “significantly less than the Boundary Dam project.”

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