In a recent article in Oilweek, Ian Gates, head of the department of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary, discusses the necessity for the oilsands industry to reinvent itself and focus on reducing, and eventually removing, water from the bitumen extraction process.
For the past 11 years, Gates’s research has focused on cutting emissions, water use and the energy intensity of SAGD production processes. Following the oil price crash and amidst the growing global focus on reducing emissions, Gates stated: “We need to invent. We need to do better than we’ve ever done. And it can’t be talk. A lot of talk will not cut it.”
As an example of where he believes the industry is headed, Gates cites Suncor Energy’s piloted Nsolv process, in which heated solvent vapour is injected into the oil reservoir. The company’s Dover oilsands project has already produced over 60,000 barrels of oil using this process. Gates speculates: “I think those are the kinds of things that are going to be the big heavy hitters.”
Gates also believes that Alberta’s economy can diversify by transforming bitumen into value-added products, such as carbon fibre or graphene. “If that is the case,” says Gates ,”we have a way of transforming this industry from just a transportation fuel system…to also value-added specialty materials—which would diversify the economy of Alberta if we could do this in an efficient manner.”