Carbon capture: Unholy smoke

Regina’s HTC Purenergy offers oil companies and coal-fired plants a solution.

Canada’s oil industry and coal-fired electrical utilities are steaming about new federal requirements to incorporate carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage capability by 2012. But HTC Purenergy couldn’t be happier. The Regina-based company (TSXV: HTC) is one of a handful of global players that can offer proven carbon capture technology — in this case, developed at the University of Regina’s International Test Centre for Carbon Dioxide Capture. “We have tangible, definable technology to capture CO2 out of a flue-gas stream after combustion occurs,” says CEO Lionel Kambeitz. “This is not just theoretical technology; we have an actual product that can capture one or two thousand tonnes a day.”

The International Test Centre has been running a demonstration plant, attached to SaskPower’s Boundary Dam coal generating station, for years. There’s also a large pilot plant at the University of Regina. Recently, HTC Purenergy was asked to participate in the engineering, design and potential construction of the giant new natural gas power plant CO2 capture project being built in Karsto, Norway.

HTC’s post-combustion system is based on solvent scrubbing technology. Solvent is pumped to the top of the plant’s exhaust tower, where it mixes with the exhaust stream and absorbs the CO2. The mixture is then brought to a stripping column and heated. As the temperature rises, the solvent releases the captured gas as 99% pure CO2, which is then piped off and stored in the ground..

While this system allows companies to capture their CO2 emissions, questions still remain about what should be done with them afterward. In regions like Western Canada, the gas can be utilized for enhanced oil recovery to extract millions more barrels out of aging oilfields. Too bad it’s so difficult to separate oxygen from carbon. If it wasn’t, the carbon could be removed and compressed into diamonds.