Investment in research and technology
Technology investment is a key component of TransAlta’s emission reduction strategy. TransAlta continues to invest in research and technology to advance our facilities, investigate emerging environmental solutions and explore other means of power generation. In 2009, we invested $48 million in research and technology, including Project Pioneer, our demonstration project to work through the challenges of scaling up the chilled ammonia technology for carbon capture and storage. In addition to Project Pioneer, we continue research on other fronts to explore alternatives to coal plants as well as emission reduction technologies.
Project Pioneer is a partnership between TransAlta, the Canadian and Alberta governments and industry partners. It is currently undergoing engineering studies, and is slated to be operational in 2015. Additional information about Project Pioneer is in the Environment section of this report.
During the summer of 2009, a five-month study was undertaken to determine the feasibility of replacing coal with biomass as a fuel source for producing power. The fuels studied included pulp and paper or forestry waste, as well as peat moss. The study focused on risk management, impact to the environment and opportunities for TransAlta. TransAlta acquired a biomass facility in Grande Prairie, Alberta, as part of the Canadian Hydro Developers acquisition in late 2009.
Gasification for clean coal
Through membership in the Canadian Clean Power Coalition (CCPC) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), TransAlta participates in research into gasification as a source of baseload electricity.
Gasification is a component of the Alberta government’s strategy to use waste such as from oilsands production processes, to produce power, petrochemicals and fuels. TransAlta supports the government’s strategy; however, at this time gasification is costly compared to other technologies available for power production.
Algae for carbon capture
At TransAlta’s Sarnia, Ontario and Centralia, Washington facilities, research on the use of algae for carbon capture and storage was undertaken in 2009. In this process, flue gas is expelled into holding ponds. The carbon dioxide (CO2) is consumed by algae.
The process involves adding minerals and/or biowaste (sewage) to the water to promote the growth of algae. The algae can later be pressed and the oil sold as a biofuel. At this point the process is cost-prohibitive and therefore is not being considered for use at our facilities.
TransAlta and partner Capital Power explored the potential of attaching geothermal to its Keephills 1 and 2 facilities during 2009. The technology uses enhanced geothermal technology to transfer heat from eight kilometers below the Earth’s surface, back to the power plant. That heat is then used to offset the burning of coal in the facility and improve its efficiency.
TransAlta is currently studying the impact that the various technologies that make up the smart grid will have on the Alberta electrical system. We are investigating advanced metering technologies and associated demand response programs, transmission/distribution upgrades, sensors, voltage flow controllers, and plug-in hybrid vehicle grid impact assessments. Smart grid technologies are being implemented today on a global scale. We are investigating these opportunities.