One of the world's biggest carbon capture projects is being launched at a coal-fired power plant in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

SaskPower, Saskatchewan’s provincially-owned power utility, is launching a CN$1.4 billion carbon capture and sequestration project to serve the company’s Boundary Dam coal plant near the city of Estevan.

SaskPower claims the project is the world’s first and largest commercial-scale carbon capture of its kind, cutting the plant’s CO2 emissions by roughly 90 per cent, equivalent to approximately one million tonnes per annum.

“It’s the world’s first post-combustion capture on any coal plant in the world,” said Michael Monea, president of carbon capture and storage initiatives at SaskPower. “It’s going to set a new standard for power utilities.”

The facility will capture C02 emissions from the coal-fired power plant before sending it beneath the earth via pipelines made from carbonised steel and sequestering it in underground geological formations.

“We sincerely expect this to become a model for plants around the world,” said SaskPower CEO Robert Watson. “This is what we think is a long-term, fiscal responsible way of getting less emissions into the air.”

According to SaskPower, Saskatchenwan is highly suited to carbon capture and storage given the depth of its geological formations and its copious coal deposits. The province is already host to the world’s largest CO2 storage site – the IEA GHG Weyburn-Midale CO2 Monitoring and Storage Project, where over 20 million tonnes of CO2 have been stowed since the turn of the century.

In addition to being conveyed below the surface of the earth, some of the captured CO2 will be used by SaskPower to generate additional revenue. The utility has entered a 10-year contract with Calgary-based oil company Cenovus Energy to sell the liquefied carbon, which can be used to facilitate the extraction of crude oil from the ground.

The carbon capture project could also draw revenue from other by-products of the coal-firing process, including sulphur dioxide, which can be used to make sulphuric acid for industrial applications, as well as fly ash, which serves as an ingredient in concrete products.

The facility, which has been promoted by SaskPower as a means of reducing the carbon footprint of the coal-fired plant since 2008, has received $240 million in funding from the Canadian federal government.

The project has had some difficulties, however, including lengthy delays and significant cost overruns. The facility was originally scheduled to begin sequestering carbon six months ago back in April, and is estimated to have run at least $115 million over budget – equivalent to nine per cent of the projected cost at the outset.

According to Watson, these issues were the result of “things that were beyond our control,” including the reconstruction of the boiler and costs in relation to dealing with asbestos.

Carbon capture projects in general also face fervent opposition from leading greens groups in North America, who claim the measures simply perpetuate the usage of pollution-heavy fossil fuels and distract from preferable clean energy measures.

The Sierra Club, one of North America’s oldest and most prominent environmental groups, has expressed its staunch opposition to carbon capture technologies on these grounds, pushing instead for the complete abolition of coal usage for power generation purposes.

“It’s a waste of vital capital that should be invested in conservation, efficiency and renewable [energy],” said John Bennett, director of Sierra Club Canada. “It doesn’t get us off fossil fuels.”

“We can no longer talk in terms of using less of them, we have to be working towards eliminating them.”

The Sierra Club has already taken legal measures to thwart the FutureGen carbon capture project in Illinois, the US$1.65 million retrofit of a 65-year old coal-fired power plant that would help to restore the facility’s operation.