The Sturgeon Refinery has completed a major maintenance shutdown that was scheduled to include a full test run of the gasifier unit that has held up its conversion to full commercial operations.
Refinery start-up is underway using synthetic crude oil (SCO) to produce low-sulphur diesel, according to a statement from operator North West Redwater Partnership on Friday.
Additional work is progressing to prep the gasifier unit for start up in early 2020 to enable the switch to bitumen feedstock, the company said.
The Sturgeon Refinery has been processing SCO into diesel since November 2017. The facility was originally expected to complete the switch to bitumen by the end of 2018.
Ongoing diesel production is made possible because SCO is a partially upgraded product and does not need all units operational, North West has said.
The gasifier is designed to process the heaviest portion of the bitumen barrel into hydrogen for the refinery, and produce pure CO2 to be captured for enhanced oil recovery.
Issues with initial commissioning of the unit resulted in repairs and replacement of equipment.
An update from North West in November pushed out expected gasifier startup from the end of 2019 to early 2020, with the company saying that additional work was required.
A full test run of the gasifier was scheduled to coincide with the project's fall routine maintenance shutdown, which commenced in September.
The shutdown is now complete, logging over 390,000 total hours by skilled tradespeople, inspectors, technical experts, planners and other job functions, North West said on Friday.
The refinery is expected to produce diesel from SCO again before the end of December, followed by bitumen processing in 2020.
“We’ve achieved several notable successes in the face of challenge with the gasifier unit, and continue to push forward into 2020 with every bit of determination, expertise, and focus needed to become fully operational and refine Alberta’s bitumen at the Sturgeon Refinery,” spokeswoman Vanessa Goodman said in an emailed statement.