Technology development is underway to dramatically reduce the oilsands industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, and for that reason, the sector is at the heart of Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
That’s the message that Dan Wicklum, chief executive of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) will be bringing to this week’s Reshaping Energy 2017 conference, hosted in Ottawa by the Conference Board of Canada.
The event will bring together leaders from a variety of industries across Canada and around the world as well as government representatives to share insights on managing the low-carbon transition.
The oilsands sector, often demonized by environmental groups for its GHG emissions, which are currently higher in general than those from conventional oil, is a critical part of this conversation.
Wicklum says the oilsands can prosper while at the same time significantly reducing its carbon footprint, thanks to technologies being developed by individual companies as well as COSIA.
“90 percent of the production in the oilsands is represented by our members,” he notes.
The organization, which has been globally celebrated for its approach to collaboration, focuses on GHG reduction as one of its five environmental priority areas. The others are water, land, tailings and monitoring.
As of mid-2016, COSIA member companies had shared 936 technologies, with a total cost of development of about $1.33 billion. Wicklum says the number of shared technologies has reached more than 1,000, with total investments having far exceeded the previous amount.
Since its inception, COSIA has completed more than 347 projects.
One of these is direct contact steam generation.
Developed by Natural Resources Canada researchers, direct contact steam generation replaces steam that is generated using conventional boiler technology by creating a steam and CO2 mixture from wastewater in combination with the direct products of oxygen-fuel combustion.
The resultant mixture is then used to aid in bitumen extraction, while a portion of the CO2 remains underground. As a result, GHG emissions are reduced by about 80-90 percent, while costs are lowered by up to 30 percent.
That technology has been field-tested and could be in commercial use in two to three years.
Another promising technology is electromagnetically assisted solvent extraction (EASE), which is being tested by a group of producer partners at Suncor Energy’s Dover in situ site.
The system uses radiofrequency electromagnetic heating and solvents to heat and mobilize bitumen.
“You could use renewable energy to produce the electricity used in the process,” Wicklum notes.
Overall GHG emissions would be minimal, while production costs would plunge, since virtually no natural gas would be used in the process.
Another exciting project Wicklum will talk about in Ottawa is the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, an initiative launched in 2015 with US power producer NRG.
The competition is structured as a two-track prize, with one track focused on testing technologies at a natural gas facility, and the other focused on testing technologies at a coal power plant, COSIA says.
There will be a total of three rounds, with a prize of $10 million available to the winners of each track.
The goal is to develop commercial technologies that generate profitable uses for CO2. End products might include building materials, clean fuels or consumer products.
Wicklum said solutions developed under that initiative could make Canada a world leader in CO2 management—solutions driven by oilsands industry players.
“We’re as high tech as any other sector out there,” Wicklum says.