Transforming our energy future through carbon conversion

Capital Power - Kate Chisholm - Q.C., Senior Vice President, Chief Legal and Sustainability Officer
By Kate Chisholm Q.C., Senior VP, Chief Legal and Sustainability Officer at Capital Power

The world as we know it is on the brink of transformation —the urgent need to impede climate change is challenging all of us to adapt our lifestyles, be more innovative, and collaborate thoughtfully to build a more future-focused, and ultimately sustainable, future. Our industry is at the forefront of this complex, global challenge. We, at Capital Power, are fervent believers in climate change, and passionately working to transform our energy system to deliver low-carbon, sustainable energy for generations to come.

Delivering Meaningful Change

Holistic transformation of our energy systems requires an “all-of-the-above” solution from our industry—one that maximally expands our use of renewable energy, employs storage technologies to optimize those renewable sources and transitions away from coal by focusing on lower- and zero-carbon thermal back-up sources, by continually improving their efficiency and emissions performance and by investing in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies.

This approach will position our global energy community to meet our mid-century decarbonization target while ensuring affordable and reliable power for all. It can also help address some of the opportunities and challenges we’ll face along the way to achieving a decarbonized world by 2050, including:

  • Resource allocation: Every region is unique in its natural resource endowment and its resulting accessibility to different types of renewable and thermal energy. Some jurisdictions (like Alberta, where I’m from) aren’t blessed with abundant hydro and haven’t invested in nuclear, so must therefore turn to other energy sources to keep the lights on and homes warm in winter.
  • Reliability: The intermittency of renewables like wind (which can generally be relied upon to generate power only 30 to 40% of the time) and solar (which only generates power during the day) requires them to have back-up at night and during all hours when the wind isn’t blowing.
  • Flexibility: Because we only want to use this back up intermittently, we want it to be reliably available whenever we need it, but we don’t want it to cost very much. We also want it to be flexible enough to turn on instantaneously whenever a sudden need arises. Natural gas alone fulfills these needs right now.
  • Storage: People are working very hard to improve the technology, however batteries are currently only capable of storing power for hours, not yet for days or weeks, as can sometimes be needed in the dead of winter. In areas that lack hydro, only natural gas can do this, too.
  • Carbon economy: We are already capturing and storing carbon from large emitters, and we’re starting to convert captured carbon into valuable products that can be sold to offset the cost of capture. Really smart people are working very hard to prove this process at commercial scale, and to commercialize and proliferate the carbon products. Once a market for these products has fully developed, we’ll be able to use the resulting revenue to build plants that capture carbon right out of the air!
  • Unpredictability: Even scientists and engineers don’t yet know which disruptive technology— long-term batteries or carbon conversion— will be readily available first but both technologies will ultimately serve important and complementary purposes in our fight against climate change.

This is why the world needs an “all-of-the-above” solution to conquer climate change; we need to take a multi-pronged approach to energy transformation and implement all of the tools at our disposal to build a sustainable future for generations to come.

Investing in Bold, Innovative Solutions

Carbon capture and conversion, both directly from the air and from large final emitters, is a technology suite that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other agencies see as essential to achieving the Paris targets.

Capital Power has been investing in bold, innovative solutions to optimize our generation fleet for the future by integrating carbon-conversion-supported natural gas generation with renewables. We’ve invested in C2CNT, an innovative carbon conversion technology that captures CO2 and transforms it into leading-edge carbon nanotube products. Carbon nanotubes are a conductive, high-value product, that can be used as an additive to substantially increase the strength of materials such as concrete, steel, and aluminum. The production and application of carbon nanotubes avoids CO2 emissions in two ways:

  1. It captures carbon emissions at the source (e.g. the stack of a natural gas unit) and transforms them into carbon nanotubes; and then
  2. Adding the carbon nanotubes to certain manufacturing processes reduces the amount of carbon they produce by reducing the amount of carbon intensive materials (e.g. concrete, aluminum or steel) needed for traditional industrial purposes. This is because they are “stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum and more conductive than copper”. For example, when used as an additive to enhance the structural properties of cement, 2,500 tonnes of carbon nanotubes can be produced from 10,000 tonnes of carbon captured from Capital Power’s generation. In turn, those 2,500 tonnes of carbon nanotubes will help us avoid 2 million tonnes of carbon that would otherwise have been emitted in the production of cement.

Carbon nanotubes have already been successfully incorporated into rebar, transistors, touch screens, antennas, Kevlar, batteries and dental implants. New research indicates that sponges made from carbon nanotubes will absorb many times their weight in spilled oil and can be easily retrieved because they’re magnetic. They can also replace carbon black. I could go on and this is uber cool stuff.

Building the Power Company of Tomorrow

At Capital Power we’re building the power company of tomorrow by testing and integrating carbon conversion into our power generation alongside renewables to build a decarbonized energy future and deliver Responsible Energy for Tomorrow.

We believe that advancing carbon conversion technologies is a key component of the decarbonization pathway and can support the development of a sustainable energy system by:

  • Enabling zero or near-zero emissions from natural gas generation;
  • Converting carbon emissions into a range of useful and valuable products;
  • Reducing emissions from other, downstream industrial processes; and
  • Creating new jobs and employment opportunities in multiple sectors.

Not only have we invested in carbon conversion technology, we’re excited to be building the world’s first commercial-scale carbon nanotube production facility, the Genesee Carbon Conversion Centre (GC3), at our Genesee Generating Station. GC3 will utilize emissions and power from our Genesee facility alongside our carbon conversion technology, C2CNT. Once completed, this facility will be capable of generating 7,500 tonnes of carbon nanotubes per year.

Looking to GLOBE 2020, this event will be a crucial platform for sustainability players across sectors and jurisdictions to gather, engage and strategize solutions to mitigate the climate crisis facing our world. I hope you will join me in the carbon conversion conversation taking place at the GLOBE 2020 panel “A Tale of Transformation: Opportunities and Challenges in the CCUS Ecosystem” on February 12.

Let’s talk. Let’s work together toward our common goal.