Lab Canada

New research centre to seek ways to reduce water use in oil sands

Edmonton, AB – Water use in oil sands development is currently a significant concern, particularly as the industry develops and grows over the next 20 years. A new research centre at the University of Alberta is poised to tackle this issue through a new partnership with Imperial Oil and Alberta Ingenuity.

The Imperial Oil-Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Oil Sands Innovation’s mandate is to find more efficient, economically viable, and environmentally responsible ways to develop Canada’s oil-sands resources, one of the largest crude oil deposits in the world. The centre will be led by Dr Murray Gray, scientific director.

The centre says it expects to invest over $15 million in research over the next five years, and recruit more than 50 faculty, graduate students, and researchers. It will encourage interdisciplinary research and apply the emerging tools of nanotechnology to the oil sands.

“This is exactly how the ingenuity of Albertans like Dr Gray will be felt. He is taking on problems that are crucial to Alberta – the oil sands and our limited water supply – but that also have impact around the world,” says Dr Peter Hackett, president and CEO of Alberta Ingenuity.

“At Imperial Oil, we strongly believe that investing in research and innovation is of critical importance to satisfying increasing energy needs, all the while meeting increasing environmental expectations. We share the commitment of the University of Alberta and have long recognized that research and technology is the key to developing Alberta’s oil sands,” said Randy Broiles, senior vice-president, resources division, Imperial Oil.

In addition to evaluating the use of non-aqueous solvents to separate and extract bitumen from oil sands, research activity this year will also focus on bitumen extraction and upgrading projects. One of the projects involves nanotechnology, where technologies are scaled down to a minute scale by modifying the structure of catalysts. The use of nano-structured materials holds promise to both reduce energy requirements and improve operating efficiencies in bitumen upgrading.