When Suncor’s Base Plant operations began in the 1960s, it was at the height of technology for the decade. Its three petroleum coke-fired boilers were used to produce steam that’s essential for extraction and upgrading processes.  More than 50 years later, the Coke Boiler Replacement (CBR) Project aims to modernize the aging boilers with two energy-efficient natural gas cogeneration units.

Fuel switching from petroleum coke to natural gas in a cogeneration facility modernizes the equipment, generates steam more efficiently and increases our capacity to export efficient power to the Alberta provincial grid. But making large improvements to Suncor’s core business and infrastructure doesn’t happen overnight. The CBR Project construction began in 2019. Start-up will be ongoing through the year and is expected to be fully online in late 2024.

Fuel switching is more than a trendy catchphrase in the world of sustainability. It’s the process of replacing a higher-GHG intensive fuel source with a lower GHG-intensive one that is more efficient and cost-effective. Modernizing the operation’s steam production will create benefits that will put this work on the grid – literally.

Using natural gas cogeneration units will create electrical power as a byproduct of the steam. Approximately 800-megawatts of power will go directly to Alberta’s Interconnected Electrical System with a lower GHG intensity than the current grid average. When operational, Suncor will become the third largest power producer in Alberta and will supply approximately 7% of the province’s current electricity demand.

“Our investment to optimize Base Plant and move away from some of our most carbon-intensive processes, through fuel switching and adapting to natural gas cogeneration units, is a significant move,” says Mike Haig, Vice President, Projects. “It’s a commitment to our company’s future and the sustainable path we’re working towards.”

The CBR project isn’t the first example of Suncor’s cogeneration use, but it will be the largest. We’ve been using cogeneration at our oil sands operations for a number of years including at Firebag, MacKay River and Fort Hills.

 Aerial view of industrial facility

Suncor Base Plant’s natural gas-fired cogeneration units

“A project with the scale and breadth of CBR requires the focus and efforts of many teams to be successful,” adds Mike. “I want to thank everyone involved who have gotten us to where we are today and make sure we all continue to work safely as we get closer to project completion.”