The biggest challenge for oilsands producers is bringing down the cost of production in order to compete with less expensive shale oil, which is something Brij Maini’s laboratory at the University of Calgary aims to tackle with new fuel thanks to a boost of industry support.
“We are trying to reduce the steam requirement by adding chemicals to the steam, making the oil drain faster and require less steam,” said the Schulich School of Engineering professor, who studies additives to reduce the financial and environmental costs of steam injection for heavy oil recovery.
Maini is the newly-appointed Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)/Nexen Energy ULC and CNOOC Ltd. Industrial Research Chair in Advanced In-situ Recovery Processes for Oilsands.
“My hope is that we will be able to prove the whole basic scientific understanding of the process so we can analyze it more accurately, as well as maybe figure out better ways of doing it," he said.
Not only does this partnership support additional faculty and grad students to work under Maini, but it will increase the quantity and quality of laboratory equipment.
For example, the professor noted, the school will build more model boxes for use in the scaled physical model rig for SAGD experiments.
Currently, the laboratory only has one such high-tech box, whereas multiple boxes would allow preparing a model while another is in the rig.
Maini’s laboratory team is currently examining mechanisms at work when adding solvents, surfactants and gases with steam to reduce the high viscosity of heavy oil and minimizing heat losses to the reservoir, hopefully leading to optimized recovery processes with much less environmental impact than current technologies.
“People have looked at additives for quite some time now,” he said.
“Up to this point, though, the industry has been testing additives pretty much as a ‘let’s try it and see’ approach, and there is not that much scientific understanding of what really goes on when you put additives in with the steam.”