Technology used on Mars could reduce tar sands GHGs

The Alliance New Ways group, which brings together Alberta’s largest oil producers, announced Thursday the winner of its competition to find technologies that can be used to reduce the use of steam produced with natural gas. naturally in the oil sands.

The company Impossible Sensing Energya Calgary-based subsidiary of the American space exploration company Impossible Sensingwon a $45,000 prize for the Sherlock optical imaging technology used in the robot Perseverance to try to find traces of life and carbon compounds on the surface of the red planet.

According to Ariel Torre, co-founder and president ofImpossible Sensing Energythis technology can also detect specific amounts of carbon-based solvents in the oil extraction process.

According to the New Pathways Alliance, increased use of solvents offers the potential to reduce, if not eliminate, the need for steam generation, an energy-intensive process, in steam injection separation operations.

Solvents – such as butane and propane – occur naturally in oil sands bitumen and are used as a more energy-efficient alternative to steam to help the bitumen become liquid enough to flow to a production well.the New Paths Alliance said in a statement.

Oil sands companies currently use large amounts of natural gas to produce steam for in situ extraction in the oil sands.

Wes Jickling, the vice president of technology development at COSIA, the innovation arm of the New Paths Alliance, said the industry has long known that solvents, such as propane and butane, can behave like steam. in the production of bitumen.

If solvents could be used to replace steam in oil sands production, the amount of natural gas consumed by the industry would decrease dramatically. % et jusqu’à 90% de réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre dans certains cas, en utilisant ces solvants. Le potentiel est donc énorme”,”text”:”Nous envisageons une réduction de 20% et jusqu’à 90% de réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre dans certains cas, en utilisant ces solvants. Le potentiel est donc énorme”}}”>We are looking at a 20% reduction and up to a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, using these solvents. So the potential is hugeexpressed Wes Jickling.

Environments of similar difficulty

Another potential benefit is that solvents injected with or instead of steam in oil sands reservoirs can be recovered and reused.

Oil sands companies currently use large amounts of natural gas to produce steam for in situ extraction in the oil sands. (Archives)

Photo: The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

According to the president ofImpossible Sensing Energy, Space exploration is not unlike the environment of the oil sands which both operate in conditions of extreme remoteness and harsh climatic conditions and must be able to operate autonomously, without an operator.

Many of the stresses at NASA are very similar to the stresses in oil and gassaid Ariel Torre.

An economic interest to show

A report released last year by the Pembina Institute shows that the use of solvents in the oil sands is promise on paperbut comes with technical and cost limitations.

The economics of using vaporized solvents can be reduced in cycles of low crude oil prices when solvent deployment and recovery costs are greater than production revenues.the report said.

Using solvents to replace steam is just one of the technologies New Paths Alliance members are exploring as part of their commitment to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions from production by 22 million tons by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Environmental groups have previously criticized the New Paths Alliance for not doing enough to reduce emissions as oil hit record highs last year.

The company Impossible Sensing Energy will work over the next few years to develop its technology to see if it can be used in the oil sands.

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