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Solutions
| 06/22/16

Cleaning up dirty oil

TCE

New Canadian-led technology to reduce pollution, emissions and waste in the oil and gas industry is showing promise toward commercialization, according to researchers behind two separate projects in Alberta and British Columbia.

Field Upgrading, a private company that is developing new technology to remove sulphur, heavy metals and acid from oil sands bitumen, recently built a 10 barrels per day pilot facility in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.

The company claims can take high-sulfur bitumen and process it to produce higher quality fuel suitable for the shipping industry without having to go through a conventional upgrading refinery. It also says their facility produces half the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of a standard upgrading facility and has no direct emissions of the air pollutants, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide.

They accomplish this by mixing the bitumen feed stock with molten sodium, to which the sulfur in the bitumen bonds, creating sodium sulfide. Heavy metals in the mix precipitate out and are captured, and the sodium is recovered at the end by passing the sodium sulfide through a ceramic reactor. The resulting liquid sulphur can then be sold on the market and the oil can also be sold to the ocean shipping industry.

The company also states that their technology can perform bitumen upgrading for about half the price of current processes and that their processing facilities can be set up in a smaller, modular configuration, requiring less up-front investment in infrastructure

Another project that is also focused on creating value while reducing the environmental footprint of the resource extraction industry involves UBC researcher and PICS fellow Saad Dara. Led by former PICS program committee member Professor David Wilkinson, the project is also at the pre-commercialization phase, with a recently built test plant in Burnaby producing promising results.

The UBC team has developed a waste to value innovation that converts waste carbon dioxide and high salinity waste-water from oil and gas production into high-value chemicals and desalinated water for on-site utilization. As with Field Upgrading’s technology, the UBC technology is modular, minimizing infrastructure investment, pollution and GHG emissions, and also reduces cost—in fact, because it produces useful chemicals and desalinated water, it runs at a negative cost. An in-field pilot demonstration of the UBC technology is expected within the next two years.

The pilot plant is capable of desalinating 25 barrels of wastewater and converting 100 kg of carbon dioxide per day. Dara says a single 1,000 barrel per day wastewater treatment capability system integrated with a waste-gas to power system is expected to remove GHG equivalent to approximately 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per day (equal to 6,337 cars); conserve in excess of 58 million liters of water every year (equal to 24 Olympic size swimming pools); and create value for an end-user.

Given our dependency on fossil fuels for the immediate future, such innovations are important for reducing the environmental impacts of the oil and gas industry in the transition to a low carbon economy.

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