Sept/Oct 2007

Coal in Canada

Production staying strong in the West

By D. Zlotnikov

Photo credit: Daniel Wiener, Montreal, Quebec

When it comes to coal, most of Canada’s production happens in the West, said Canadian Coal Association CEO Allen Wright. “Most of the operations are in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Besides one small producing coal mine in New Brunswick and some ongoing reclamation mining in Nova Scotia, there is also the prospect of a significant underground mine in the northern end of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.While the Donkin coal project will be primarily a thermal coal operation, the project proponents are optimistic about the metallurgical (met) prospects.”

In Saskatchewan,Wright said, all coal mines are “mine-mouth” thermal operations supplying coal to the province’s coal-fired power plants. “These power plants are built as close to the mines as possible, to minimize transportation costs.” All of Saskatchewan’s production is consumed within the province, with the exception of some production from the Bienfait mine, which supplies the Atikokan and Thunder Bay coal-fired power plants in northern Ontario.

Operations in Alberta are a mix of the eight thermal mines and two Met mines: Elk Valley Coal Corporation’s Cardinal River operation near Hinton and Grande Cache Coal’s mine in Grande Cache.

British Columbia is primarily a supplier of met coal for the export market. The province has three main areas of activity, split between the southeast,where Elk Valley has five mines, and the northeast, where a number of small coal companies are working to expand existing operations and to develop new properties as well. The northeast is home to the Peace River Coal operation (a joint venture by Anglo Canada, NEMI, and Hillsborough Resources), Western Canadian Coal, and a few other, smaller ventures.

The third area is Hillsborough Resources’ Quinsam Mine on Vancouver Island.This underground mine, one of only two operating underground coal mines in Canada, produces thermal coal for export to the U.S. Hillsborough also has a large thermal asset under development in northeastern BC.

Wright mentioned that there has also been considerable activity on the utilization side, with the first super-critical coalfired plant commissioned in 2005, another in development, and a strong interest in developing more coal gasification projects.

“Genesee 3, a 450 MW super-critical unit, replaced two existing units, resulting in a decrease of CO2 emissions by 18 per cent. Keephills 3, another supercritical project, is expected to decrease emissions by over 20 per cent. Both plants are designed to significantly reduce pollutants such as Nox, Sox, particulate matter, and mercury.”

Sherritt International is in the planning stages for a coal gasification facility, said Wright.The facility’s main purpose will be to produce hydrogen for the oil sands industry, where it can be used as a feedstock for upgrading bitumen as an alternative to natural gas. (More information on p. 36).

Finally, Saskatchewan Power has long been studying various clean coal technologies. Their main focus has been on selecting an appropriate coal technology that will provide for their growth in electricity demand, while at the same time allowing for the capture of CO2 emissions. Currently, they are considering a super-critical coal-fired project with postcombustion capture and storage of CO2. If this project proceeds, it will be the first of its kind in the world. A decision is expected this fall.

A few similar facilities, said Wright, are in the planning stages, some as replacements for aging plants and others intended to increase the available power supply. Due to technological improvements, these new power plants will be able to generate more power while using less coal and producing less CO2.

Overall, Canadian coal production has been relatively steady, with a very slight downward trend since 1997.There was a partial reversal of the trend in 2003, with small, but continuous increases, primarily accounted for by met coal. On the consumption side, thermal coal in the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Alberta has increased steadily, year after year. Ontario, still a big coal consumer, has seen reduced consumption in recent years because of higher output from their nuclear fleet.

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