How a software company is microwaving Alberta’s oilsands

How a software company is microwaving Alberta’s oilsands

As oilsands companies operate to meet their weather targets and facial area an incoming restrict on overall emissions from the federal authorities, there has in no way been as a lot concentration on how the field in northern Alberta can lower its huge air pollution. The final result is a wave of technological innovation, which include ideas first conceived quite a few many years in the past — like microwaving the oil out of the ground.

That is effectively the engineering created by Calgary-centered application enterprise Acceleware, which commenced producing oil at its demonstration facility in the province final month in close proximity to Lloydminster.

Underground, the enterprise utilizes radio waves to heat up oil, which is then pumped to the surface area. The engineering continues to be in advancement and still faces troubles, but its backers say it has the potential to minimize carbon emissions in the sector.

“Because the 40s, people today have believed of the plan of working with radio frequency vitality to create oil,” stated Acceleware’s CEO Geoff Clark.

In the earlier, even in current decades, scientists were utilizing radio or Television station machines, which Clark reported doesn’t perform very well as a heat resource.

“In our belief, the frequency ranges are all mistaken, the efficiency is all incorrect and the funds price tag of that communications equipment is way much too significant,” he explained.

Acceleware injects radiofrequency underground employing two heating strains. After the oil is warmed up, it flows down into the producer nicely and is pumped up to the surface area. (CBC News Graphics)

When oilsands corporations drill oil wells, they commonly heat up the bitumen utilizing steam, which is developed utilizing pure gasoline. If radio wave technological innovation is effective, providers could minimize their emissions and water use. There could be operational and capital cost personal savings far too, Clark claimed.

“Applying electrification to decarbonize the output of large oil is definitely what we are striving to do,” he claimed. “The big challenge for us is to show that we are accomplishing what we say the technological know-how can do.”

Oil is pumped to the surface area at this wellhead as portion of Acceleware’s take a look at challenge. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The Acceleware demonstration facility began running in March and started manufacturing oil in April, though the company wouldn’t say how a great deal. The business is progressively escalating the quantity of electricity to examination how a great deal warmth and oil can be created.

The plan is to operate the task for 6 to 12 months, to get adequate knowledge. Acceleware doesn’t want to be an oil corporation by itself, but as a substitute provide and company the equipment to oilpatch producers.

The technological know-how could be completely ready for use in market as before long as following calendar year, the organization claimed, if the demonstration is profitable.

Enjoy | How Acceleware acquired the idea to use radio waves in the oilpatch:

For than 10 years, Acceleware has worked to create technological know-how to microwave the oilsands

The concept arrived from a project in California, claims Geoff Clark, the firm’s CEO.

‘It’s early days’

Acceleware, which was launched in 2004 as a computer software company, has been given far more than $15 million in authorities grants from Alberta Innovates, Emissions Reduction Alberta and Sustainable Improvement Technological know-how Canada. Market companions include oilsands heavyweights Suncor and Cenovus.

“It is early days, but it can be remarkable,” reported Bryan Helfenbaum, government director of innovative hydrocarbons at Alberta Innovates, a provincial authorities company. 

Acceleware is getting into a “critical position,” he mentioned, as the subsequent few months will demonstrate what variety of oil manufacturing is probable at what depth, scale, cost and period. 

“There is a whole lot of elements that will go into the business viability and no matter if this is a solution that could be applied very broadly, or more of a niche possibility,” mentioned Helfenbaum. “This is a actually novel strategy that can considerably minimize our emissions, in particular as the Alberta energy grid greens in excess of time.”

Check out | Weighty oil producers are testing lots of strategies to minimize emissions these kinds of as making use of solvents, like butane:

Investigation underway to slash emissions in the oilsands

There are quite a few ongoing initiatives to test new procedures and engineering to lower air pollution from the oilsands, states Bryan Helfenbaum, with Alberta Innovates.

Helfenbaum was section of a comparable project various several years back prior to he joined Alberta Innovates, as Suncor and other market customers explored working with radio waves and solvents to build underground warmth. 

The undertaking value much more than $100 million, but was by no means entirely analyzed, Helfenbaum said, due to the fact of installation and other complications.

Florida-based TerraVent Environmental has because acquired the technological know-how and the corporation stated it is continuing with development.

Acceleware commenced to make oil in April at its demonstration web-site in close proximity to Lloydminster, Alta. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Many possible solutions

There are dozens of other investigate tasks underway aimed at lowering emissions in the oilsands, which includes a concentrate on reducing the quantity of steam required to warmth up underground bitumen. Some organizations are experimenting with working with solvents and substances.

If Acceleware is prosperous with its technology, the corporation could branch out into industries such as hydrogen creation or grain drying.

“We imagine that we have picked the hardest application to start with and that is the just one that is 500 metres underground,” said Clark.

Oon-Doo Baik, a University of Saskatchewan engineer who research radio frequency heating of biomaterials, stated it can be an “strength-economical process, but it is a refined system.” There needs to be a fantastic knowledge of the electromagnetic discipline, for instance, to use the technologies competently and effectively in similar industries, he mentioned, in an emailed reaction about radio frequency heating.

Most oilsands businesses have established a target to achieve net-zero by 2050, even though the federal govt is expected to introduce an emissions limit for the marketplace later on this yr.

Oilsands facilities in northern Alberta account for about 11 per cent of Canada’s total carbon emissions. The federal authorities expects the oilpatch to cut emissions by extra than 40 for every cent by 2030.

Acceleware’s $21-million project has aid from three federal government funding resources and a few oil businesses. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)