In Canada, provinces control natural resource development—or do they?
By Jim Bentein
March 10, 2017, 1:46 p.m.
Alberta’s Turner Valley gas plant in the 1930s. Image: Glenbow Archives
For western Canadians who believe their provinces have often played second fiddle to the central Canadian provinces that helped form Confederation, the history of provincial mineral rights control in Canada essentially proves they’re right, according to one of Canada’s foremost political scientists.
Duane Bratt, political science professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, notes that when Alberta and Saskatchewan entered Confederation in 1905 they did so without being granted control over mineral rights within their territory.
“That was only given to the established provinces. It was based on their low populations at the time. They weren’t seen as equal,” he says, adding that mineral rights control was eventually granted in 1930.
The importance of the decision to grant mineral rights to the two provinces, following a dragged out battle between the federal government and Alberta and Saskatchewan, can’t be minimized, he adds.
It also has more to do with current and future energy decisions in Canada than one might think.
When Confederation was created in 1867, mostly through an accommodation between what had been Upper Canada and Lower Canada, it was based on the perceived need to make French Canadians, who mostly lived in what became Quebec, feel as much a part of the new union as English Canadians in what was to become Ontario, Manitoba and the Maritimes.
“The original notion of Confederation was not about geography, but centred around language and religion,” Bratt says.
“At the time many of the major powers, such as that over education, were given to the federal government.”
Since then, Canada has becoming a much more decentralized nation than was originally conceived.
The growing wealth of the resource producing provinces has transformed the country, Bratt says.
“It would be hard to imagine what Canada would look like now without the western provinces having control over their resources. We are now the most decentralized federation in the world.”
That doesn’t mean that control is sacrosanct. The federal government has pushed the constitutional barriers often.
The fight over the National Energy Program in the 1980s was a conspicuous example of a federal government attempt to gain more control over oil and gas resources. And Bratt argues that the insistence that all provinces create carbon taxes of some form is another attempt.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s government views this as an encroachment over provincial powers over resources, and Bratt believes the province would have a chance to win a court fight if the choice was made to take it that far.
While the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insists it will not compromise provincial control over mineral rights by demanding the imposition of a carbon tax before new pipelines are approved, that’s exactly what it is doing.
“Trudeau has been savvy,” says Trevor McLeod, director of the Center for Resource Policy at the Canada West Foundation. “It’s a backdoor way to affect the development of natural resources in the provinces.”
Provincial control over resources continues to be a cornerstone of Confederation, having been proclaimed again when the constitution was repatriated to Canada in 1982.
Todd Hirsch, chief economist for ATB Financial, acknowledges that control over mineral rights has helped make Alberta and Saskatchewan wealthy provinces, but argues there can be a negative aspect to that control.
“As economists we like to do counter-analysis,” Hirsch says. “If the federal government had kept control, would the economies be more diversified?”
With royalties from oil and gas having contributed $15 billion per year to Alberta government coffers in the good years (that was down to less than $3 billion last year), plus billions in tax revenues, Hirsch says the Alberta economy is so strongly tied to the economic benefits from resource development that it’s difficult to bring about real diversification.
Saskatchewan Leads Nation in February Job Growth
Released on March 10, 2017
In February 2017, 8,000 jobs were created in Saskatchewan (up 1.4 per cent, the highest growth rate in the country).
Nationally, employment was up 15,300 (up 0.1 per cent, seasonally adjusted) from January.
More people were employed in Saskatchewan in February than ever before with 563,600 working in our province.
“Leading the nation in month-over-month job growth is a positive indication that the economy is moving in the right direction,” Economy Minister Jeremy Harrison. “This along with recent reports on retail sales growth, manufacturing sales growth and wholesale trade growth show the continued strength and resilience of Saskatchewan’s economy.”
Saskatchewan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.0 per cent in February, the third lowest among the provinces. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 6.6 per cent.
Other February 2017 highlights include:
- Employment was up by 8,600 over February 2016.
- Full time employment was up 3,300 over last year, and part time employment was up 5,300.
- Major year-over-year gains were reported for trade, up 7,800; professional, scientific and technical services, up 4,800; educational services, up 4,500; and manufacturing up 3,000.
- Off-reserve Aboriginal employment was up 4,400 (10.0 per cent) for eight consecutive months of year-over-year increases.
- Aboriginal youth employment was up 1,000 (+11.9 per cent) for 10 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.
- Regina’s employment was up 2,900 (+2.1 per cent), and Saskatoon’s employment was up 1,600 (+1.0 per cent) compared to last February.
- Youth unemployment rate was 10.3 per cent (seasonally adjusted), second lowest among the provinces, behind British Columbia (8.7 per cent) and below the national rate of 12.4 per cent.
Harrison noted that while the strong employment numbers are very encouraging, Saskatchewan is still facing a challenging fiscal situation due to resource revenues being down well over a billion dollars.
“While our economy is gaining strength, there will still have to be some difficult measures taken in the upcoming budget to address the resource revenue shortfall, to return the budget to balance and to keep Saskatchewan strong,” Harrison said.
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From virtual reality to programmable bacteria: innovation on display mining
By: Alexandra Posadzki, The Canadian Press
Posted: 03/9/2017 3:01 AM | Last Modified: 03/9/2017 7:05 AM
TORONTO – Programmable bacteria, a gold-sniffing camera and a virtual realitytool for taking investors underground were among the innovations on display at the world’s biggest annual mining convention in Toronto this week.
Their makers say these and other technologies have the potential to reshape the mining industry at every stage — from financing and exploration to extraction and cleaning up sites once the metal is gone.
The Gold Sniffer, a digital camera with a macro lens, a specialized light source and custom-built software with a sophisticated algorithm to detect gold’s unique optical signature, is shown in this undated handout photo. Programmable bacteria, a gold-sniffing camera and a virtual reality tool for taking investors underground were among the innovations on display at the world’s biggest annual mining convention in Toronto this week. Their makers say these and other technologies have the potential to reshape the mining industry at every stage — from financing and exploration to extraction and cleaning up sites once the metal is gone. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – Gold Sniffer Inc.
Some veterans of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention say such innovation is badly needed in an industry traditionally resistant to change.
“There’s a lot of inertia in our business,” said George Salamis, chairman of Vancouver-based Integra Gold Corp. (TSXV:ICG).
“There’s this mindset that, ‘We’ve been doing this for 100 years, why would we change?’ With new blood coming in, that is changing. But change is slow.”
The mining industry has been on the mend as commodity prices recover from a protracted slump. The downturn made many executives more focused on pruning budgets than investing in technology that might increase efficiency.
But even a small implementation of such products can have a huge effect on margins and operating costs, Salamis noted.
“Mining is certainly ripe for that,” he said.
Encouraging innovation was Integra’s chief aim when it partnered with Goldcorp Inc. to create Disrupt Mining, a Shark Tank-style competition held during the opening day of the convention last Sunday.
Among the five finalists was Sudbury, Ont.-based Bio-Mine Ltd., a company that has spent the past 13 years working with bacteria that can be programmed to break down different types of rock, either to help extract valuable metals or neutralize harmful byproducts when remediating old mines.
While micro-organisms have been used in mining for nearly a century, Bio-Mine CEO Kurtis Vanwallegham says the bacteria previously used were static — “one trick ponies” that can only break down one type of rock in a particular environment.
Bio-Mine’s technology is more versatile, Vanwallegham says. By feeding their bacteria a very specific diet and depriving them of certain things, a process referred to as metabolic engineering, the company is able to program the micro-organisms to target specific substances, regardless of what environment they’re in.
“When you have a programmable technology, the opportunities are limitless,” Vanwallegham says.
Another technology on display at PDAC is the Gold Sniffer. It uses a digital camera, a macro lens, a specialized light source and custom-built software with a sophisticated algorithm to detect gold’s unique optical signature, says Jim Kendall, president of Waterloo, Ont.-based Gold Sniffer Inc.
He first came up with the concept while working at a gold mining company in Toronto in 2009.
“My colleague and I were talking and I went to his desk, picked something up and said, ‘If this was a rock in northern Ontario, how could I tell if there’s gold in it?'” Kendall recalls. “He said, ‘You can’t.'”
Gold particles are often too small for a geologist to see with a hand lens, so the only way to know if a rock sample contains gold is to ship it off to a lab — a process that can take weeks or even months to get results. Kendall says the Gold Sniffer shaves the process down to minutes.
Headsets that allow potential investors to tour a mine site without boarding a plane also proved popular at the convention.
Metaverse, a Toronto-based consulting firm specializing in virtual and augmented reality, says the technology can have vast applications in the mining industry, from training employees on safety protocols to visualizing data on ore deposits.
To date, uptake of the relatively new technology has been slow in the mining sector, says Alan Smithson, the co-founder and CEO of Metaverse.
“It’s a very old business,” Smithson said. “People have been digging stuff out of the ground for thousands of years. It takes time to change that.”
Shore Gold has posted their presentation from PDAC 2017. It is HERE Story is below.
By Will Purcell
March 9, 2017
Ken MacNeill and George Read’s Shore Gold Inc. (SGF) gained one cent to 19 cents on 2.11 million shares. The company, oft accused of being quieter than a field mouse under the eye of a hungry hawk, provided a lengthy update this week. The news covered the work Shore has been doing toward an updated feasibility study of its Star-Orion South project in central Saskatchewan. The study is several months late — at least to investors who recall the company half-heartedly saying that it could be finished late last year — and the latest news suggests a reason why.
Shore’s new news reads very much like its old news — specifically a release that the company rolled out in late September. A few paragraphs received just a light edit and one, containing a lengthy comment from Mr. Read, Shore’s ebullient senior vice-president, was essentially unchanged from the September version. (The only change was a change of tense — ” George Read, states ” became ” George Read, stated.”) That strongly suggests that the company used its September release as the basis for its latest news, although Mr. Read has probably uttered the 70-word comment so many times over the past six months that he can recite it verbatim.
While the regurgitation of old news added new discouragement to the disappointment felt by some shareholders, there are several new snippets worthy of note embedded within the old story. In September, Shore said it had plans to improve the efficiencies of recovering diamonds from material down to eight millimetres in diameter using X-ray transmission (XRT) sorters. The company still plans to do so, but it has now added details about “proposed capability of recovering diamonds down to plus-two millimetres” from the dense media separator concentrate. Those plans will apparently involve some combination of X-ray sorters and grease tables.
As well, Shore and its consultants have now started a detailed review of processing data ahead of a “redesign of the diamond processing flowsheet.” That redesign will include laser sorters and near-infrared waste rock sorters, in addition to the XRT sorters it previously mentioned. Further, Shore’s consultants are reviewing all the tests regarding autogenous milling and comminution (reducing to minute particles) of the kimberlite, and the liberation of diamonds. The company is also completing tests on the hydrodynamic properties of the fine kimberlite waste that would eventually be put in the proposed containment facility for the mammoth mine.
Shore’s revised feasibility study will incorporate the resource estimate that the company revised in 2015, but the main purpose of the new look is to cut the projected capital costs, initially pegged at a prohibitive $2-billion. The company thinks it can pare several hundred million dollars from that estimate, starting the mine at Orion South perhaps, where the richer kimberlite comes closer to the surface, and by more efficient methods of stripping the overburden. There presumably are savings to be had in the processing plant as well, although most of the upgrades would improve the bottom line through greater recovery rates and (hopefully) lower operating costs. In any case, Shore’s weary shareholders are hopeful that the feasibility study will be worth the long and continuing wait
Canada’s oilpatch should not fret about the Permian Basin: Yager
By David Yager
March 8, 2017, 2:24 p.m.
A Financial Post headline on February 17 declared “The Permian Basin: An existential threat to Canadian oil as the war on cost heats up.”
OMG! For oilfield services, you finally hire a few people and sneak through a price increase and the bank no longer hates you, but then you pick up the news and learn Canada’s recovery will be muted by an ancient oilfield in western Texas. Does the bad news ever end?
The flow of globally irrelevant data from the U.S. is relentless. The Baker Hughes active oil rig count in mid-February was not quite 600 and still only 37 per cent of the October 2014 peak, but rig productivity has skyrocketed, according to multiple sources. The aforementioned article noted crude output from the Permian was expected to rise by 400,000 bbls/d to 2.5 million bbls/d this year and perhaps rise by one million bbls/d by the end of 2018. Look out world.
Despite rising land and service costs, Permian geology is certainly favourable, and many operators can make money at US$40. The implication is this will pressure Canada in terms of attracting capital because so many operators are redeploying finite reserve replacement dollars from long-term projects, like the oilsands, to quicker returns, like the Permian. Numerous global operators like ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips were looking at spending more in western Texas and less elsewhere.
But the fact that the Permian Basin might produce one million bbls/d more in 21 months is almost meaningless in the great scheme of global oil markets. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated Feb. 7, 2017, that 2018 world oil demand will be 99.55 million bbls/d, putting the Permian at three per cent of global supply. How can the tail of a basin that dates back to the 1920s wag the world’s oil dog? It can’t, and it would sure be nice to stop reading about it.
If the EIA figures are remotely correct, oil demand in 2017-18 will rise by an average of 1.5 million bbls/d this year and next. Decline rates on existing production vary greatly by reservoir, but last year, IHS Markit, one of America’s most credible independent oil research outfits, released a report indicating global decline averages of 4.5 per cent per year. This was based on a study of 811 international oilfields accounting for two-thirds of world production. Offshore decline rates were higher than on land, but technology and advanced recovery methods were slowing the decline in most areas. While the decline rates in light, tight or shale oil wells are improving as recovery understanding grows, the long-term decline rate of these reservoirs is certainly greater than the IHS average.
So to keep up with global consumption and production patterns and using EIA data for 2017-18, the world is going to have to unlock 5.8 million bbls/d of new and incremental production in 2017 and an additional 5.9 million bbls/d in 2018. Exactly how the Permian Basin, 600 rigs (not all in western Texas) and enormously improved drilling productivity are going to move the needle on this figure is unknown. And it shall stay that way because it is never going to happen.
This is not to say the Permian Basin is not a wonderful collection of hydrocarbon-bearing rocks because it is. Since production began in 1921, this 75,000-square-mile, multi-zone mammoth has yielded 29 billion barrels of oil and 75 tcf of gas. The Railroad Commission of Texas website reports it could do that again. A new producing horizon called Wolfcamp is estimated to hold 20 billion recoverable barrels alone. Lots of Canadian operators and service companies are active in this region. Nothing wrong with that.
But to have the media continually focus on the Permian and the U.S. rig count as a problem and not an opportunity is simply wrong. The National Energy Board reports Canadian crude output increased by almost 100,000 bbls/d in 2016 despite the worst drilling year in recent history. Why is that not a problem? The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ 2016 Canadian oil production forecast sees Canadian output increasing by 700,000 bbls/d from 2015 to 2020. Why is the news not worried about this?
Oilfield services can’t have it both ways. The working oilpatch can’t cheerfully go back to work replacing reserves as they decline, while at the same time, having these efforts declared as a threat to its own future. Finding more oil is not a problem. It is essential. Indeed, report the news. But please dig a bit deeper and tell the whole story
Shore Gold has posted their presentation from PDAC 2017. It is HERE
They are driving down costs and increasing revenues via various refinements, but still require final permits and financing.
First orders under $455m potash deal for Vancouver junior
March 7, 2017
Encanto Potash Corp. (CVE:EPO) has announced the first set of orders under agreement with Metal Mineral Trading Co. of India, a state-owned trading agency to supply 2 million metric tonnes of MOP annually.
Vancouver-based Encanto said the Indian firm has ordered in total 120,000 tonnes of muriate of potash which the company will source from existing producers pending the commercialization of its own project. Encanto values the deal at C$36 million or US$27.3 million.
Encanto is advancing a $2.9 billion potash project in the Saskatchewan province of Canada in a joint venture with the Muskowekwan First Nation and is currently working on an updated feasibility study for the project.
India imports roughly 6 million tonnes of muriate of potash a year, a substantial portion of a global industry for the crop nutrient of roughly 50 million to 60 million tonnes. The potash price has been under pressure since 2011 and is currently languishing around the $220 a tonne level. MOP prices peaked in 2009 shy of $900 a tonne.
Encanto, worth $51 million on the venture market in Toronto after gaining 57% in value this year, would be the first junior mining company to bring a potash mine into production in an industry dominated by a handful of global giants based in in North America and Russia. Encanto’s proposed mine about 100 km northeast of Regina will also be the first potash mine in Saskatchewan on First Nations land.
According to a 2013 pre-feasibility study, the project boasts proven and probable reserves of 162 million tonnes, with plans for a 2.8 million tonne per year mine with a 50-plus year life. The proposed mine would employ 1,000 people during construction and 500 permanent jobs when complete.
In January Encanto signed a separate blockbuster agreement with India’s national farmers co-operative to supply a minimum of 5 million tonnes of potash per year for the next twenty years.
NACOF was established under the Indian ministry of agriculture and represents farmers in 25 out of 29 states across the subcontinent. India is home to some 55 million small scale farmers and NACOF boasts an annual budget of $7.7 billion according to a statement.
Last year a $700 million financing deal between a private Indian fertilizer company in the state of Gujarat and another Saskatchewan junior, Karnalyte Resources, fell apart. BHP Billiton’s giant Jansen potash project which at a potential 8 million tonnes per year would the the largest mine of its kind anywhere in the world, has yet to receive board approval even after the world’s top mining company spent $3.8 billion on the project.
8 future technologies for carbon capture
March 8, 2017, 6:49 a.m.
Osamu Terasaki (left) and his team at the University of Stockholm are creating crystals designed to capture carbon in the presence of water. Image: University of Stockholm
Deployment of carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology is “not optional” if the world hopes to meet the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement, the International Energy Agency said recently.
“IEA scenario analysis has consistently highlighted that CCS will be important in limiting future temperature increases to two degrees Celsius, and we anticipate that this role for CCS will become increasingly significant if we are to move towards well below two degrees Celsius,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol wrote in the foreword to 20 Years of Carbon Capture and Storage: Accelerating Future Deployment.
Canada has three large-scale CCS projects in commercial operation, including SaskPower’s CCS facility at the Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Sask., the Weyburn-Midale enhanced oil recovery projects operated by Cenovus Energy and Apache Canada, and the Shell Quest project at the Scotford oilsands upgrader near Edmonton.
While CCS operators in Canada and globally work to improve existing technologies, in laboratories around the world, scientists are working on the next wave of technologies. Here is a look at several of them.
- Metal-organic frameworks
In recent years, a class of highly absorbent, nanoporous materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) have emerged as a promising material for carbon capture in power plants.
“People are really excited about these materials because we can make a huge variety and really tune them,” says Northwestern University’s Randall Snurr. “But there’s a flip side to that. If you have an application in mind, there are thousands of existing MOFs and millions of potential MOFs you could make. How do you find the best one for a given application?”
Snurr and his group have discovered a way to rapidly identify top candidates for carbon capture—using just one per cent of the computational effort that was previously required. By applying a genetic algorithm, they rapidly searched through a database of 55,000 MOFs.
One of the identified top candidates, a variant of NOTT-101, has a higher capacity for CO2 than any MOF reported in scientific literature for the relevant conditions.
“The percentage of carbon dioxide that the MOF can absorb depends on the process,” Snurr says. “The [United States] Department of Energy target is to remove 90 per cent of carbon dioxide from a power plant; it’s likely that a process using this material could meet that target.”
With their nanoscopic pores and incredibly high surface areas, MOFs are excellent materials for gas storage. MOFs’ vast internal surface areas allow them to hold remarkably high volumes of gas. The volume of some MOF crystals might be the size of a grain of salt, for example, but the internal surface area, if unfolded, could cover an entire football field.
Snurr’s previous work has explored how to use MOFs to capture carbon from existing power plants during the post-combustion process. About 10–15 per cent of power plant exhaust is CO2; the rest is mainly nitrogen and water vapor. Snurr and his team have designed a MOF that can sort these gases to capture CO2 before it enters the atmosphere. Chemically processing the fuel before it enters the power plant can turn it into CO2 and hydrogen. After the MOF captures the CO2, the hydrogen is burned, and the only byproduct is water. This extra chemical processing step would need to be built into new power plants as a pre-combustion process.
“In places like China, where they are still building a lot of power plants,” Snurr says, “this would make a lot of sense.”
Cornell University materials scientists have invented low-toxicity, highly effective carbon-trapping “sponges” that could improve carbon capture economics.
A research team led by Emmanuel Giannelis has invented a powder that performs as well as or better than industry benchmarks for carbon capture.
The most common carbon capture method today is called amine scrubbing, in which post-combustion, CO2-containing flue gas passes through liquid vats of amino compounds, or amines, which absorb most of the CO2. The carbon-rich gas is then pumped away—sequestered—or reused. The amine solution is extremely corrosive and requires capital-intensive containment.
The researchers have been working on a better, safer carbon-capture method since about 2008, and they have gone through several iterations. Their latest consists of a silica scaffold, the sorbent support, with nanoscale pores for maximum surface area. They dip the scaffold into liquid amine, which soaks into the support like a sponge and partially hardens. The finished product is a stable, dry white powder that captures CO2 even in the presence of moisture.
Solid amine sorbents are used in carbon capture, Giannelis says, but the supports are usually only physically impregnated with the amines. Over time, some of the amine is lost, decreasing effectiveness and increasing cost.
The researchers instead grew their amine onto the sorbent surface, which causes the amine to chemically bond to the sorbents, meaning very little amine loss over time.
- Hybrid membranes
A new, highly permeable carbon capture membrane developed by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) could lead to more efficient ways of separating CO2 from power plant exhaust.
The researchers focused on a hybrid membrane that is part polymer and part MOF.
In a first, the scientists engineered the membrane so that CO2 molecules can travel through it via two distinct channels. Molecules can travel through the polymer component of the membrane, like they do in conventional gas-separation membranes, or they can flow through “CO2 highways” created by adjacent MOFs.
Initial tests show this two-route approach makes the hybrid membrane eight times more CO2-permeable than membranes composed only of the polymer. Boosting CO2 permeability is a big goal in efforts to develop carbon capture materials that are energy efficient and cost competitive.
“In our membrane, some CO2 molecules get an express ride through the highways formed by metal-organic frameworks, while others take the polymer pathway. This new approach will enable the design of higher performing gas separation membranes,” says Norman Su, a graduate student in the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley and a user at the Molecular Foundry.
Berkeley Lab scientists have developed a hybrid membrane where MOFs account for 50 per cent of its weight, which is about 20 per cent more than other hybrid membranes. Previously, the mechanical stability of a hybrid membrane limited the amount of MOFs that could be packed in it.
“But we got our membrane to 50 weight per cent without compromising its structural integrity,” says Su.
And 50 weight per cent appears to be the magic number. At that threshold, there are so many MOFs in the membrane that they form a continuous network of highways through the membrane. When that happens, the hybrid membrane switches from having a single channel to transport CO2, in which the molecules must go through the polymer, to two channels, in which the molecules can either move through the polymer or through the MOFs.
“This is the first hybrid polymer-MOF membrane to have these dual transport pathways, and it could be a big step toward more competitive carbon capture processes,” says Su.
Swedish scientists have created crystals that capture CO2 much more efficiently than previously known materials, even in the presence of water.
One way to mitigate climate change could be to capture CO2 from the air. So far, this has been difficult since the presence of water prevents the adsorption of CO2. Complete dehydration is a costly process. Scientists have now created a stable and recyclable material where the micro-pores within the crystal have different adsorption sites for CO2 and water.
“As far as I know, this is the first material that captures CO2 in an efficient way in the presence of humidity. In other cases, there is competition between water and CO2, and water usually wins. This material adsorbs both, but the CO2 uptake is enormous,” says Osamu Terasaki, a professor in the department of materials and environmental chemistry at Stockholm University.
The new material is called SGU-29, named after Sogang University in South Korea, and is the result of international cooperation. It is a copper silicate crystal. The material could be used for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and especially to clean emissions.
“CO2 is always produced with moisture, and now we can capture CO2 from humid gases. Combined with other systems that are being developed, the waste carbon can be used for new valuable compounds. People are working very hard, and I think we will be able to do this within five years. The most difficult part is to capture CO2, and we have a solution for that now,” says Terasaki.
- Turning carbon to rock
An international team of scientists report they may have found a potentially permanent way to remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere—turn it into rock.
The study, published in Science, has shown for the first time that CO2 can be permanently and rapidly locked away from the atmosphere by injecting it into volcanic bedrock. The CO2 reacts with the surrounding rock, forming environmentally benign minerals.
Until now, it was thought that this process would take several hundreds or thousands of years and is therefore not a practical option. But the current study—led by Columbia University, the University of Iceland, the University of Toulouse and Reykjavik Energy—has demonstrated that it can take as little as two years.
Juerg Matter, the lead author and associate professor in geoengineering at the University of Southampton, says: “Our results show that between 95 and 98 per cent of the injected CO2 was mineralized over the period of less than two years, which is amazingly fast.”
The gas was injected into a deep well at the study site in Iceland. As a volcanic island, Iceland is made up of 90 per cent basalt, a rock rich in elements required for carbon mineralization, such as calcium, magnesium and iron. The CO2 is dissolved in water and carried down the well. On contact with the target storage rocks at 400–800 metres under the ground, the solution quickly reacts with the surrounding basaltic rock, forming carbonate minerals.
“Carbonate minerals do not leak out of the ground, thus our newly developed method results in permanent and environmentally friendly storage of CO2 emissions,” says Matter, who is also a member of the University’s Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute and an adjunct senior research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia. “On the other hand, basalt is one of the most common rock type on Earth, potentially providing one of the largest CO2 storage capacity.
“The overall scale of our study was relatively small. So, the obvious next step for CarbFix is to upscale CO2 storage in basalt. This is currently happening at Reykjavik Energy’s Hellisheiđi geothermal power plant, where up to 5,000 tonnes of CO2 per year are captured and stored in a basaltic reservoir.”
The investigation is part of the CarbFix project, a European Commission– and Department of Energy–funded program to develop ways to store anthropogenic CO2 in basaltic rocks through field, laboratory and modelling studies.
- Turning carbon into fuel
They’re making fuel from thin air at the University of Southern California’s Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.
For the first time, researchers there have directly converted CO2 from the air into methanol at relatively low temperatures.
The work—led by G.K. Surya Prakash and George Olah from the chemistry department at USC Dornsife—is part of a broader effort to stabilize the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by using renewable energy to transform the greenhouse gas into its combustible cousin, attacking global warming from two angles simultaneously. Methanol is a clean-burning fuel for internal combustion engines, a fuel for fuel cells and a raw material used to produce many petrochemical products.
“We need to learn to manage carbon. That is the future,” says Prakash, the director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.
The researchers bubbled air through an aqueous solution of pentaethylenehexamine, adding a catalyst to encourage hydrogen to latch onto the CO2 under pressure. They then heated the solution, converting 79 per cent of the CO2 into methanol. Though mixed with water, the resulting methanol can be easily distilled, Prakash says.
The new process was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Prakash and Olah hope to refine the process to the point that it could be scaled up for industrial use, though that may be five to 10 years away.
“Of course it won’t compete with oil today, at around $30/bbl,” Prakash says, “but right now we burn fossilized sunshine. We will run out of oil and gas, but the sun will be there for another five billion years. So we need to be better at taking advantage of it as a resource.”
Despite its outsized impact on the environment, the actual concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is relatively small—roughly 400 parts per million or 0.04 per cent of the total volume, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. (For a comparison, there’s more than 23 times as much argon in the atmosphere, which still makes up less than one per cent of the total volume.)
Previous efforts have required a slower multistage process with the use of high temperatures and high concentrations of CO2, meaning that renewable energy sources would not be able to efficiently power the process, as Olah and Prakash hope.
The new system operates at around 125–165 degrees Celsius, minimizing the decomposition of the catalyst, which occurs at 155 degrees Celsius. It also uses a homogeneous catalyst, making it a quicker “one-pot” process. In a lab, the researchers demonstrated that they were able to run the process five times with only minimal loss of the effectiveness of the catalyst.
- Turning carbon into fibres
Finding a technology to shift CO2 from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity has long been a dream of many scientists and government officials. Now, a team of chemists says they have developed a technology to economically convert atmospheric CO2 directly into highly valued carbon nanofibres for industrial and consumer products.
“We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibres,” says Stuart Licht, who leads a research team at George Washington University. “Such nanofibres are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products.”
Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2, which they reported. Now, the team says their research could shift CO2 from a global-warming problem to a feedstock for the manufacturing of in-demand carbon nanofibres.
Licht calls his approach “diamonds from the sky.” That refers to carbon being the material that diamonds are made of and also hints at the high value of the products, such as the carbon nanofibres, that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.
Because of its efficiency, this low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of CO2. At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibres. CO2 is broken down in a high-temperature electrolytic bath of molten carbonates at 750 degrees Celsius. Atmospheric air is added to an electrolytic cell. Once there, the CO2 dissolves when subjected to the heat and direct current through electrodes of nickel and steel. The carbon nanofibres build up on the steel electrode, where they can be removed, Licht says.
To power the syntheses, heat and electricity are produced through an extremely efficient hybrid solar-energy system. The system focuses the sun’s rays on a photovoltaic solar cell to generate electricity and on a second system to generate heat and thermal energy, which raises the temperature of the electrolytic cell.
Licht estimates electrical energy costs of this “solar thermal electrochemical process” to be around $1,000/ton of carbon nanofibre product, which means the cost of running the system is hundreds of times less than the value of product output.
“We calculate that, with a physical area less than 10 per cent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years,” he says.
At this time, the system is experimental, and Licht’s biggest challenge will be to ramp up the process and gain experience to make consistently sized nanofibres. “We are scaling up quickly,” he adds, “and soon should be in range of making tens of grams of nanofibres an hour.”
Licht explains that one advance the group has recently achieved is the ability to synthesize carbon fibres using even less energy than when the process was initially developed. “Carbon nanofibre growth can occur at less than one volt at 750 degrees Celsius, which for example, is much less than the three to five volts used in the 1,000-degree-Celsius industrial formation of aluminum,” he says.
Get ready for a six-fold jump in Canadian crude-by-rail shipments this year: IEA
By Deborah Jaremko
March 7, 2017, 7:49 a.m.
Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN
More oil is going to find its way onto the rails in Canada this year as the country is left without enough pipeline capacity for continued production growth until at least 2019, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Monday.
By 2022 Canadian oil production is expected to grow by 820,000 bbls/d to 5.3 million bbls/d, the IEA said in its new five-year oil market outlook.
The net increase is driven entirely by oilsands growth despite new offshore volumes as conventional oil production declines.
“As Canadian oil output continues to grow, producers are looking ahead to an urgently needed expansion of the export network,” the IEA said.
“When pipeline capacity has not been available or domestic needs have fallen, rail shipments offer a vital relief valve. That is sure to be the case again. As no new pipeline capacity will be added before 2019, crude exports by rail could jump from 80,000 bbls/d in 2016 to 520,000 bbls/d in 2017 before falling back to 430,000 bbls/d in 2018.”
The IEA projects this will drop again to an average 105,000 bbls/d over 2019-22 as supply growth eases and as additional pipeline capacity comes online.
“According to the National Energy Board, total crude oil rail loading capacity in Western Canada is 1 million bbls/d, well above crude-by-rail needs in 2017 and 2018.”
The export bottleneck is expected to have a significant impact on prices, the IEA says, as the differential between Western Canadian Select and West Texas Intermediate typically reflects the cost to move crude from origin to destination as well as the difference in its quality.
When rail shipments rose between 2011 to 2014, the price differential between WTI/WCS widened to around US$20/bbl on average, reaching as much as US$39/bbl in December 2013. The discount then fell to US$13-14/bbl in 2015 and 2016 as oil prices fell, the IEA notes, which was barely enough to cover rail costs.
“With rail shipments set to rise, producers in Alberta will have to offer a discount to WTI and other crudes such as Mexican Maya, which can be shipped to the US Gulf Coast for a few dollars a barrel.”
The IEA expects the differential to drop after 2020, provided that new pipeline infrastructure is built, but “the reliance on US markets and associated transport costs may maintain the pressure on Canadian crude prices. As such, a diversification of export outlets and spare transport capacity is desirable. Otherwise, Canada might face restricted access to markets where the highest growth in crude oil demand is concentrated – namely Asia.”
Industry enjoying ‘upstream confidence’, but pipeline constraints could choke opportunities, says Enbridge CEO
JESSE SNYDER, FINANCIAL POST 03.06.2017
Al Monaco, president and chief executive officer of Enbridge Inc., speaks during the 2017 IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Monday, March 6, 2017. CERAWeek gathers energy industry leaders, experts, government officials and policymakers, leaders from the technology, financial, and industrial communities toprovide new insights and critically-important dialogue on energy markets.
HOUSTON, TX. — Pipeline companies need to get better at communicating with local communities, the chief executive of Canada’s largest midstream company said Monday, as major new infrastructure projects continue to be snarled in regulatory delays.
“Industry needs to up its game,” Enbridge Inc. CEO Al Monaco told a large gathering of oil and gas professionals attending the IHS CERA week in Houston Monday.
“We’re not whining about what’s happening, but we do need to get better when it comes to developing and executing projects.”
Monaco’s comments come after a number of major pipeline projects in Canada were recently approved, including Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain expansion and Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement. TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL proposal to the U.S. Gulf Coast was also revived recently after President Donald Trump signed an executive order urging the project forward.
However, public discontent with pipeline expansions continues to plague pipeline expansion plans, with many environmental groups and local residents promising to block the construction of those proposals.
Monaco said that pipeline companies need to improve their consultations with stakeholders of all kinds, including local communities, to better communicate their ideas and hear the criticisms of those who are wary of fossil fuel development.
“It’s this ‘how’ to do things that’s critical moving from, let’s call it consultation, to actually listening and carefully responding to peoples’ concerns,” he said.
There was a tinge of irony to the comments, which were addressed toward an exclusive group of oil and gas industry members. The industry has long been criticized for its insularity and lackluster communication strategy with the public. In recent years, however, pipeline companies have spent much time and capital on public relations efforts.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline, a proposal that would have transported heavy oil from Alberta to the B.C. West Coast, was rejected in late 2016 by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
First Nations along the proposed route of the project said early-stage consultations weren’t adequate to account for their concerns.
Monaco’s comments come amid a general feeling of optimism among the industry members gathered, despite a decidedly miserable and rainy day outside. It is a stark contrast from the gloomy atmosphere of the last few years of the annual event, which is one of the highest-profile energy events in the world.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which we call TAPS, that crosses three mountain ranges, 34 rivers, and hundreds of small streams, I think there’s a lot of positive energy here such a despairing message,” said Daniel Sullivan, a Republican Senator representing Alaska.
Much of that optimism is tied to the resilience of light, tight oil producers in the U.S., who have proven among the lowest cost operators in the market.
However, opposition to infrastructure expansion remains a concern among U.S.-focused producers, who are eager to ease an ongoing pipeline bottleneck.
“I’m glad to see the focus we’re putting on it,” said Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Darren Woods.
The company has refocused much of its spending on the Permian Basin in northwest Texas and southeast New Mexico, located just a short distance from where industry members are gathered in Houston.
Monaco said the “dynamics of continental energy transportation are changing” as new supplies of oil and gas are being opened up in Canada and the U.S., mostly due to the use of a combination of horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking processes over the past 15-odd years.
“There is a building momentum in our industry,” Monaco said.
As a result of lower oil prices, companies are also beginning to trim back operation costs to remain competitive with overseas producers, he said.
“It’s really about upstream confidence.”
However, Monaco warned that a failure to build pipeline projects would handicap producers in North America, which have the opportunity to be among the most competitive oil producers.
“We’re going to miss global export opportunities.”