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Shell’s Quest $1.35 billion carbon-capture project near Edmonton on target for completion

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Fort Saskatchewan — More than 100,000 tonnes of compressed carbon dioxide have been sequestered deep underground during startup testing of Shell Canada’s $1.35-billion Quest carbon capture and storage project.

“We’re not quite at commercial operations — we’re expecting that in the near future — but in that (testing) process we are proving that we can safely inject that CO2 underground,” Quest lead Tim Wiwchar said in an interview this week.

Quest is the world’s first oilsands carbon capture and storage project, and Shell’s first CCS project on a commercial scale. It is expected to reduce direct carbon dioxide emissions from the bitumen upgrader at Scotford by up to 35 per cent, or one million tonnes each year.

The Alberta government is providing $745 million for construction and Quest‘s first 10 years of operation. The federal government provided $120 million for engineering and design work. The remaining funding is from Shell (60 per cent) and its Athabasca Oil Sands Project partners Chevron Canada (20 per cent) and Marathon Oil Canada (20 per cent.)

Construction started in the fall of 2012 and finished in March. After the commissioning phase was completed in August, the testing phase began.

The carbon-capture process starts with an absorber vessel which uses an amine solvent to recover CO2 from flue gases emitted by three hydrogen manufacturing units. Heat is used to strip the CO2 from the amine, which gets reused.

The recovered CO2 is then compressed into a liquid form. A specially constructed pipeline moves it 65 kilometres north into Thorhild County, where it is injected into three storage wells more than two kilometres underground. The liquid gets stored in porous sandstone under layers of shale and salt formations that minimize the risk of CO2 escaping.

Since early September, Quest has been put through a series of tests required for its commercial operations certification. The tests have measured reliability, performance and efficiency.

An engineering firm hired by Alberta Energy is monitoring the results for the government. After Quest achieves its commercial operations certification, Shell will start to receive funding based on the tonnes of CO2 that are captured.

During the testing, liquid CO2 has been injected into two of the three wells in Thorhild County. The storage reservoir “is performing as had been expected, based on our models,” Wiwchar said.

While the original design called for 25 million to 28 million tonnes of CO2 to be sequestered over the life of the project, testing indicates capacity for “well beyond 30 tonnes,” he said.

In part because of the upcoming Paris climate talks, international interest in Quest is ramping up, Wiwchar said.

Shell has recently hosted visitors from Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Norway. They have represented governments, energy companies and environmental organizations.

“We do want to demonstrate that it’s more than just an experiment — it’s actually real and it’s happening today,” Wiwchar said. “They usually walk away quite fascinated.”

He said he likes for his team to know the visitors are interested in their work.

“There’s been somewhere near 2,000 pairs of hands that have touched the project in some form, from craft people to technical people to leadership, that have really contributed to a very successful project that’s ahead of schedule and under budget,” he said.

“And now with it being so close to completing the commercial tests — coming up to our launch date, if you will — people are really sensing that excitement of such an accomplishment, where the world is truly watching our success.”

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