Powering Progress

Utilizing pre-combustion CCS technology to increase hydrogen use in the electricity sector
By Christine Waiand and Patrick Elliott | May 03, 2023

Located in rural east-central Alberta, the Battle River Generating Station (BRGS) was commissioned in 1956 and operated as a coal plant for more than 70 years before being fully converted to natural gas by its current owner, Heartland Generation. ("Heartland"). The company was the first large-scale electricity generator in the province to phase out coal from its operations, cutting its GHG emissions nearly in half. Understanding the positive impact that these generating units have on the local economy and looking to remain competitive with new supply additions in Alberta’s deregulated power market, Heartland Generation has focused its attention on extending the unit life at Battle River and developed plans to leverage hydrogen as the next generation fuel source at the site.

The new project at BRGS is called the Battle River Carbon Hub (BRCH). BRCH is a fully integrated project that would consist of developing a hydrogen production facility at Battle River using Autothermal Reforming (ATR) technology and retrofitting the former coal-fired power plant to generate zero-carbon electricity by firing 100% volumes of clean hydrogen in the existing boiler at BRGS. The project will also develop an open-access carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) hub that would permanently sequester up to 5 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

The unique configuration of the BRCH project aims to combine commercial technologies at a larger scale to enable Heartland to be a leader in the hydrogen economy while minimizing the technical risks associated with the project. When completed, this will be the world’s first conversion of a coal plant to 100% hydrogen-fueled, baseload power. The concept offers potential replicability and scalability at other coal sites, providing a future use for facilities that are at risk of closure due to climate policy. The configuration provides the foundation for future investments in power generation and carbon sequestration in the region as markets develop.

The BRCH project was designed to fit into existing legacy infrastructure and to avoid unnecessary costs during the transition to lower-emission electricity. BRGS has existing water licenses for its current operations that can be used for hydrogen production, an existing natural gas supply at the site, a connection to the electrical transmission system, and has existing power generation equipment that can be repurposed for hydrogen. The site configuration connects hydrogen supply with on-site demand, solving one of the major problems associated with developing the hydrogen economy. “We’re excited by what this means for Alberta, the local community, and the overall energy industry. We have created a unique solution that will contribute to both clean energy transition and growth of a new economy in the province,” explains Shana Boyd, VP of Energy Transition at Heartland Generation.

The project, while still in the development stages, has seen some early successes through the awarding of funding from Emissions Reduction Alberta and their Carbon Capture Kickstart program, to undertake work to push the performance envelope for carbon capture technology. As part of this work, Heartland is working with global vendors to explore the most efficient technology that will provide the flexibility needed for the dynamic operation of power generation whilst achieving leading-edge CO2 capture rates. The combination of high capture rates and the use of zero-carbon power to produce hydrogen fuel will result in the BRCH project having a lifecycle carbon intensity comparable to some green hydrogen production technologies. BRCH has also received funding from Alberta Innovates through the Hydrogen Centre of Excellence and has been shortlisted for funding from the Federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund Net Zero Accelerator Program. These recent awards have shown the project’s alignment with both federal and provincial policy goals.

A key milestone in the project occurred in late 2022 when Alberta Power 2000 Ltd. (a Heartland Generation subsidiary) was awarded a carbon sequestration evaluation permit. The permit allows evaluation of a large area in central-east Alberta, proximal to the Battle River Generating Station and other regional sources of emissions, including the Sheerness Generating Station, another power generation asset partially owned by Heartland Generation.

Carbon Alpha has been supporting Heartland Generation to evaluate and advance the carbon storage component of BRCH and is the primary contractor for subsurface and drilling activities. Carbon Alpha’s co-founder and COO, Patrick Elliott is “thrilled to bring our specialized evaluation and development skills to support the world-class BRCH project.” The carbon sequestration hub is being developed prudently, leveraging proven exploration workflows that are congruent with CSA standards. In 2022, Carbon Alpha’s subsurface team de-risked a reservoir complex proximal to BRGS through the interpretation of 2D seismic data and integrating well log data, cores, and information from legacy wellbores in the region. This seismic evaluation work has provided positive signs of a reservoir complex with appropriate caprock seals and the capacity to safely store CO2 from both the BRCH project and other regional sources of emissions.

Heartland Generation is moving into the next phase of evaluation by launching an appraisal well program which will help to reduce subsurface reservoir uncertainty and to better inform development costs for the CCS hub. The appraisal well program is a key piece of work that will be instrumental in derisking the project to get to a final investment decision in 2024 and a project in-service date at the end of 2027. Alberta has some of the best and most abundant geological formations available to safely store emissions beneath the surface. While not dissimilar to traditional oil and gas development, drilling wells is something new for a power company. Leveraging the upstream oil and gas experience of Heartland’s leadership and industry experts, like Carbon Alpha, will help the wider Heartland team navigate the vital, yet complex components required for large-scale decarbonization.

The appraisal well program will provide new information to increase understanding of injectivity and storage capacity of the storage reservoir and will confirm that the storage reservoir is isolated by sampling the seal rocks above and below the storage reservoir. Carbon Alpha’s drilling and completions team is working closely with Heartland to ensure appropriate, high-quality data is gathered. The data will be analyzed and integrated into geological models and reservoir simulations to predict how the carbon dioxide will behave in the storage reservoir over the lifecycle of the project.

The appraisal program will also gather key geosphere data to inform the project’s measurement, monitoring and verification (MMV) plan. The MMV plan is imperative to confirm that will be sequestered permanently and safely in the storage reservoir.
The Battle River Carbon Hub project is an example of how industry and government can work together to develop innovative solutions to the challenges of climate change. The project aims to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of producing low-carbon hydrogen and capturing carbon emissions from natural gas reformation, which can be replicated in other parts of the world. It’s a first step towards an achievable clean energy future for Alberta.
Christine Waiand, Heartland Generation and Patrick Elliott, Carbon Alpha

(Printed in Issue 1, 2022 of Carbon Capture Magazine, View Carbon Capture & Storage Directory)