EDMONTON – Suncor Energy and five partners have announced they will build a $ 165-million water technology development centre at Suncor’s Firebag oilsands facility north of Fort McMurray.
The centre, being developed as a joint industry project under Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), will test water treatment and further develop recycling technologies.
It marks the first time since COSIA was launched in 2012 that member companies have banded together to build a research facility.
“This is a very large, very meaningful project that could only be done collaboratively, and it is the first bricks-and-mortar project that is done under the auspices of COSIA,” said Dan Wicklum, COSIA’s chief executive.
“The concept of having the (centre) right on site and being essentially integrated into an existing plant is novel. The technical folks are really excited about this.”
Testing is slated to begin by early 2017.
Firebag, which started operating in 2003, was one of the first facilities in the oilsands to produce bitumen using steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).
“Building the WTDC as a dedicated facility means that we can speed up how quickly we can develop and commercialize new ideas for SAGD,” Suncor spokeswoman Kelli Stevens said.
“WTDC should overcome some of the barriers that often would be present when you don’t have dedicated test facilities.”
Suncor’s partners in the project are Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Devon Canada Corp., Nexen Energy ULC, Shell Canada Energy and Husky Oil Operations Ltd.
Suncor will construct, own and operate the centre but will collaborate with the other companies on design, construction and operations.
Testing priorities will include minimizing fresh water use and maximizing reliability for SAGD production.
“Once we get up and running, some of the technologies that we’re looking at would include things like high-efficiency boilers,” Stevens said.
“In a place like Firebag, you’re generating a lot of steam, so the more efficiently you can do that, the better, in terms of both water use and GHGs (greenhouse gases.)”
Stevens said there are many advantages to having a dedicated research centre on site at Firebag, which is producing an average of 164,000 barrels of bitumen per day.
One advantage is the ability to test new technologies on process water coming off the actual operations, instead of having to send samples to an outside lab.
“If they’re going to a lab, it’s slower. Because it’s slower, it also means that some of your samples are aging, and you’re always wondering how that’s affecting the results that you’re getting in the test.
“To be able to test-drive technology on site with real process fluids in a real live environment, and also to be able to do it faster, is probably the biggest benefit that we’re talking about here.”
COSIA is an alliance of oilsands producers focused on speeding up improvement in environmental performance, specifically in the areas of tailings, water, land and greenhouse gases.
Members share data, research results and technologies, which helps them find new efficiencies while reducing duplication of effort, Wicklum said.
“They can also do projects that would not be possible for individual companies to do,” he said.
“There are very real scaling opportunities here to do projects of critical mass that are only possible in a collaborative environment.”