Government and industry are interested in finding technologies that will reduce GHG emissions in Alberta’s oil sands. Through the Climate Leadership Plan, the province has capped oil sands emissions at 100 megatonnes, a level that the industry could hit within the next 10 years. Reducing GHG emissions while increasing production is a complex challenge that requires collaboration. By working together, industry, government and technology developers will help ensure that Albertans maximize the value of our energy resources over the long term while helping oil sands producers to compete in a lower carbon economy.

Removing Sulphur with Lower Emissions

Field Upgrading President and CEO Neil Camarta stands in front of equipment at the10-barrel-per-day partial upgrading facility in Fort Saskatchewan.
Field Upgrading President and CEO Neil Camarta stands in front of equipment at the10-barrel-per-day partial upgrading facility in Fort Saskatchewan.

Field Upgrading celebrated the opening of their 10-barrel-per-day upgrading facility in Fort Edmonton in June 2016. The pilot facility removes sulphur in a way that’s cheaper than conventional processes by mixing elemental molten sodium with high sulphur feedstock. ERA and SDTC both invested to move the technology closer to commercialization.

“We are on track to create a made-in-Alberta technology that has the potential to help diversify Alberta’s economy and to help clean up the planet at the same time,” says Neil Camarta, Field Upgrading’s President and CEO.

Partial upgrading and technologies from companies like Field Upgrading will reduce the carbon footprint from oil sands products and help build a lower carbon economy.

Reducing the Need for Steam for In SITU Extraction

A Suncor operator checks a valve on the ESEIEH pilot at its Dover site, north of Fort McMurray.
A Suncor operator checks a valve on the ESEIEH pilot at its Dover site, north of Fort McMurray.

The Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating (ESEIEH) Consortium is made up of CNOOC/Nexen, Devon Canada, Suncor Energy and the Harris Corporation, an aerospace company based out of Melbourne, Florida. The ERA funding commitment to ESEIEH is helping to develop and implement a technology to replace steam for in situ bitumen extraction with electromagnetic—or radio frequency—heating in combination with solvent dilution.

Radio frequency waves are used to heat up the reservoir, which is then injected with vaporized solvent to reduce the viscosity of the oil. The oil can then be drained and pumped to the surface, and the solvent is reused. Because this process is much cooler than conventional steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations, less energy is lost during the process. There is also the potential for this technology to be combined with solar, wind or hydro power, which could further reduce GHG emissions.

ESEIEH has the potential to be a game-changing technology and to have a significant impact on GHG emissions in the oil sands. As the solvent picks up more quality components, the extraction process brings back oil that’s lighter and of higher value. Eliminating steam from bitumen extraction will also drastically reduce water usage and the space needed to store it at the operation.

Nsolv also has a technology that can reduce the need for steam. Their process uses proven horizontal well technology, but uses warm propane or butane injected as a vapour. It condenses underground and washes the compounds out of the bitumen. This type of technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by more than a megatonne per year if it is successfully developed and deployed in the oil sands industry.

These technologies, which reduce the need for steam for in situ bitumen extraction, have the potential to result in reductions in the order of megatonnes per year if they can be successfully developed and deployed in the oil sands industry.