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The Alberta government is sorting through more than 40 applications to use underground caverns across the province for carbon capture, utilization and storage hubs.

The flood of applications underscores the optimism in the province for the emissions-reducing technology. While CCUS can be used in various major industrial sectors – such as cement, steel and fertilizer production – the oil and gas sector sees it as a key part of reducing its environmental footprint by capturing carbon-dioxide emissions and forcing them deep into the ground and out of the atmosphere.

Alberta wants individual companies or consortiums to use the province’s bounty of geological formations (called pore space) that can store carbon to develop a series of CCUS hubs. The idea is that the hubs will capture CO2 from various emission sources, including manufacturing and energy.

The last round of pore-space applications in the province was confined to the Edmonton region, where six projects received government approval to explore carbon-hub projects.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage told The Globe and Mail that the latest call for CCUS hub proposals covers pore space right across the province, from the oil sands in the far north to southeastern Alberta.

In some areas, different companies are targeting the same pore space, she said, “so it’s a competitive process.”

“The department’s analyzing the various proposals and we’ve hired a fairness monitor. It’s a very independent process to see the merit of the projects and to make sure it’s done fairly and objectively,” she said, adding that the successful proponents will be announced in the fall.

One of those applications comes from the Pathways to Net Zero initiative, an alliance of oil-sands producers looking to cut emissions to net zero by 2050. Its first interim goal is to complete a CCUS network to transport carbon to a storage facility by 2030.

Suncor Energy Inc. chief executive Mark Little told The Globe recently that the group, of which the oil company is a part, submitted an application for pore space earlier this month.

“I think everybody’s a little anxious that 2030 is not a long ways away for us to build an entire carbon trunk system, put in C02 recovery technologies and those sorts of things. It just takes time,” Mr. Little said.

“I don’t think there’s really any big issue here with the province or the feds. I think we’re working very co-operatively together to solve maybe one of the greatest problems in the world right now, which is: How do you provide energy security and deal with climate at the same time? It’s anything but trivial.”

But it’s not just Alberta focusing on CCUS. Plans for more than 100 new facilities around the world were announced last year, and the International Energy Agency says that the technology will play a key role in the world’s transition to net-zero carbon emissions.

Indeed, a consortium of countries pursuing CCUS has just announced new funding to seek out promising technologies and accelerate their development. Alberta is the only subnational jurisdiction in the group, which also includes Germany, India, Norway and the United States.

Arms-length government agency Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) has committed $2.85-million to the latest $19-million global call for proposals, funded through the province’s carbon tax on large emitters.

“It really is about how the world can partner on advancing the technology it needs to help meet climate-change targets,” ERA chief executive Steve MacDonald told The Globe.

Mr. MacDonald predicts that billions of dollars will be spent on CCUS in Alberta, and fully expects the latest round of funding to be oversubscribed given the surge in global interest in the technology.

“The world’s ambitions are getting bolder and bolder. The timelines are getting shorter and shorter,” he said.

“We know it works. What we have to do is de-risk it, scale it up, and by doing that, drive the cost down so it can be deployed more extensively.”

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