Carbon Capture and Storage: Net Zero Pathway or Pipe Dream?
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
4pm – 5:30pm Eastern Time (EST) | Online
Moderator: Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon (University of Calgary)
Speakers: Bonnie Drozdowski (Innotech Alberta), Dr. Emily Eaton (University of Regina), Dr. Christina Hoicka (University of Victoria), and James Millar (International CCS Knowledge Centre).
The role of Carbon Capture and Sequestration in Canada’s course to net zero is still up for discussion, based on arguments expressed by the panelists gathered by the Transition Accelerator on November 30th.
The first panel of the Transition Accelerator’s Pathways to Net Zero webinar series put CCS under scrutiny, and prompted a passionate debate about its potential to support Canada’s net zero future.
CCS has been at the heart of heated discussions and the Transition Accelerator was enthusiastic to welcome four expert panelists, along with Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon as the moderator to add nuance to what can often be a polarized discussion. The panelists’ expertise and knowledge helped to shed light on the benefits and shortcomings of this technology as a net zero pathway.
The panelists agreed on the urgency of significantly reducing Canada’s emissions. However, declaring CCS as a priority for advancing Canada to net zero did not reach consensus among the panelists.
Bonnie Drozdowski, Director of Environmental Services for InnoTech Alberta, described their work as “an integrated approach to CCS to ensure it’s a viable option to support industry and governments to address some of their complex challenges and reach net zero targets.” She added that she is a “firm believer that we can’t look at things in isolation, and to reach our net zero targets we’re going to need a multitude of options and approaches—and CCS is a big part of that. As is process improvements as well as utilization and conversion. I don’t think that capture and sequestration alone are the only components of this equation that we need to be considering as we think how this gets integrated into our net zero future”.
According to Dr. Emily Eaton, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina, “CCUS locks into a future of fossil fuel production. It diverts resources away from transitioning off of fossil fuels and puts them into new infrastructures that will lock in fossil fuel production well into the future.” However, she recognized that CCS could have value in non-energy-producing industries like cement and steel.
The importance of the end application of CCS was also highlighted by the President & CEO of the International CCS Knowledge Centre, James Millar, who detailed the potential reach of CCS technology. “We shouldn’t equate all CCS with oil and gas, and energy. When we look at CCS, we need to be looking at all the heavy-emitting industries. […] Let’s focus on those industries that we all rely on and couldn’t function without: cement, steel and fertilizer.”
Note that the panelists have referred to CCUS (carbon capture, utilization and sequestration) throughout the panel, putting an emphasis on using the captured carbon rather than solely sequestering it underground.
Dr. Christina Hoicka, Professor in Geography and in Civil Engineering at the University of Victoria, showed reluctance about investments in CCS. “Where should we be putting our regulations, funds and admin support? […] We have CCS but also solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency. All of these solutions require enhancement of regulations and policies to support their scale up. But the key difference is that renewable energy and EE are market ready, market proven, and deployable. And have willing hosts in Canada.”
She added “The question is, where do we want to spend our public dollars? Do we want to spend it on technologies that we know are ready to go and able to be scaled up, or do we want to put it in something that may come and save us perhaps far off in the future?”
Several questions asked by moderator Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon, professor in the department of physics and astronomy and school of public policy at the University of Calgary, brought up political actions needed to advance Canada net zero agenda, and investments indeed to reduce emissions.
The panelists seemed to agree that political certainty and federal investments in clean technology will be essential.
James Millar explained “what I’m hearing in Canada and globally, there needs to be certainty and certainty seems to revolve around a price for carbon.” “The certainty on the associated price of carbon is one of the things from a policy perspective that will help to drive implementation of carbon capture projects.” added Bonnie Drozdowski. The Director of Environmental Services at Innotech Alberta also suggested investing “more money in lower TRLs (technology readiness levels) that can actually advance these technologies from a techno-economic perspective to a point where we can determine if they are worthwhile making a private investment into.”
Dr. Hoicka highlighted the “big opportunity cost as investments are made in a technology not proven yet, which might not work. […] All that government attention could be shifted towards solutions that we know are much more likely to get us to the 2030 target. When you are listening to people talking about solutions, ask yourself, what’s the timeframe? […] If a solution deals with fossil fuels after that time frame, it may not work.”
Dr. Eaton also highlighted that recent federal political actions have demonstrated “just how much even a government that wants to do something different is really being impacted by ways in which the long-standing fossil fuel industry has infiltrated our politics and policy”. She believes “the federal government does need to bypass the provinces a little bit more to partner with municipalities directly” to advance projects aiming at emission reductions without waiting on provincial actions.
Here are highlights of the panelists closing remarks:
- Dr. Christina Hoicka, Professor in Geography and in Civil Engineering at the University of Victoria: “The evidence that I read is showing that the fastest way to deal with climate change by 2030, right now, is to put a lot of focus on technologies that we can diffuse very, very quickly, and those are renewable energy and energy efficiency. On top of that, we need to think about technologies and how they support communities, and the types of local economic development that they provide and how communities want to engage with them.”
- James Millar, President & CEO of the International CCS Knowledge Centre: “I do want to see a greener future and it’s about doing something. […] When you look at large-scale CCS, it is proven. Is it perfect? No. Does it need to be improved? Absolutely, like any technology. But if we are truly going to meet the targets set in Canada, we need to do this at large scale.” James Millar also highlighted the importance to take Indigenous rights into consideration, and also the importance of community consultations in deploying such technologies.
- Dr. Emily Eaton, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina: “We need to phase out fossil fuels […] so [our] pathway to net zero has to include phasing out fossil fuels. If we now invest a whole bunch of new infrastructure into an industry that is supposed to be phased out, that will impede our path to net zero. I’m okay about CCS potentially for other applications, but the problem is, right now it’s been advocated for and implemented in areas associated with the fossil fuel industry. We need to put in place the policies that will allow us to phase out fossil fuels by 2050, and for me that doesn’t include CCUS.”
- Bonnie Drozdowski, Director of Environmental Services at InnoTech Alberta: “I want to be part of a solution, and components of that solution can incorporate CCS. From my perspective, CCS has to be a part of that pathway journey. I’m not in any type of disagreement that we are on a journey of phasing out fossil fuels, but it’s the timeline that I think is a question.”
We are grateful to all our panelists and our moderator for this informative, diverse, and respectful discussion. While many questions remain up for debate, one thing is certain: CCS will continue to fuel heated discussions for the foreseeable future.
We welcome suggestions for much-needed important discussions you would like the Transition Accelerator to host. Let us know what topics you would like to see covered.
This panel was part of the Transition Accelerator’s Pathways to Net Zero webinar series. The Transition Accelerator is a charity dedicated to empowering and guiding decision makers towards net zero emissions. We provide decision makers with the tools and knowledge they need to unlock a sustainable future for Canada.
To learn more about our future events, or review previous events, visit our webinar page and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media.
Bonnie Drozdowski is the Director of Environmental Services at InnoTech Alberta. She has a decade of experience in managing and participating in multifaceted projects including integrating business and science to generate creative practical solutions and opportunities in the environmental industry in Canada, including the industries of upstream oil and gas, mineable and in-situ oil sands, coal mining, sand and gravel, diamond mining, forestry, pulp and paper, and waste management.
Dr. Emily Eaton
Dr. Emily Eaton is a Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina, in Treaty Four. She is a white settler doing research, teaching, and service devoted to addressing the climate and inequality crises at local and national scales and mapping pathways to transition that rectify the unjust colonial relationship that Canada has with Indigenous Peoples and marginalized communities.
Dr. Christina Hoicka
Dr. Christina Hoicka holds the Canada Research Chair in Urban Planning for Climate Change and is an Associate Professor in Geography and in Civil Engineering at the University of Victoria. She studies the diffusion of low-carbon innovations and renewable energy and the justice and socio-economic benefits of a renewable energy transition.
A seasoned leader who inspires and empowers others to achieve great things, James has more than 30 years of experience in senior management positions in both the private and public sectors. He is currently President & CEO of the International CCS Knowledge Centre. James has also worked as a senior advisor for two Saskatchewan Premiers, was Director of Public Affairs for the 25,000-employee Calgary Health Region, worked closely with TC Energy’s CEO leading the Public Affairs function, served as senior advisor to both the CEO and Board Chair during Calgary’s Olympic Winter Games bid, and navigated public affairs for Pieridae Energy’s $10 billion LNG project off Canada’s East Coast.
Moderator: Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon
Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon is an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy and school of public policy at the University of Calgary where she directs the Masters of Science in Sustainable Energy Development. She is a macro energy system researcher and her work is focused on understanding how low-carbon energy transitions happen within different sectors of the economy, and how policy responses can improve outcomes. Sara is also co-founder and co-host of Energy vs Climate a webinar and podcast that explores the energy transition in Canada, and beyond. She is the chair of the panel for Clean Growth with the Canadian Climate Choices Institute and a member of the board of directors of Emissions Reduction Alberta and the Pembina Institute.