Changing Our World: Clean Steam

decrease emissions and water use in oil sands

Changing our World

COSIA brings together the best researchers from Canada and around the world to tackle tough environmental challenges in the oil sands. But researchers need dedicated spaces and state-of-the-art equipment to develop breakthrough science and innovation, which is why top notch research facilities are so important. These world class testing facilities are vital to generating the practical solutions Canadians needs to address important issues like climate change.

Our Changing our World series profiles some of the facilities that are helping to make the oil sands a sustainable industry. The technologies they deliver is supporting Canada’s transition to a carbon neutral economy – one innovation at a time.

Clean Steam 

When it comes to improving the reliability, efficiency and environmental performance of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) facilities in the oil sands, one hurdle is being able to study processes while the facility is in operation. For the last two years, a test lab at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) has been making that task a little easier by offering a dedicated space and controlled environment for just this kind of research.

The Once Through Steam Generator (OTSG) Applied Research Laboratory is part of SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS). The lab works with the oil sands industry to find environmentally sustainable solutions for steam generation that will reduce water use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. COSIA was one of the lab funders and several COSIA members are collaborative research partners. The project is also supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and Alberta Innovates (AI).

Steam generation is a central part of producing bitumen at steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) facilities. Most SAGD facilities have Once Through Steam Generators (OTSG), which burn natural gas to boil water, producing steam that is injected into the ground to soften bitumen, so it can flow to a second well for extraction. The majority of the water is treated and recycled back into operations.

The OTSG lab is focused on the industry challenge of tracking, reducing and potentially eliminating the tube fouling that routinely occurs in SAGD steam generators. The fouling results from minerals in the water that build up on the tube walls inside the generators during steam production – much like the scale that forms inside a kettle. That fouling layer puts the equipment at risk, potentially reduces the efficiency of the OTSG, and must be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent significant damage to the OTSG piping. 

However, cleaning the tube walls requires taking the generator out-of-service, which means lost production, something operators would like to avoid. When the facility is less efficient, fouling also results in higher GHG emissions and an increase in water use. Sending that trend in the opposite direction is what the OTSG Applied Research Laboratory is all about.

Find out more from Rick Tofani, Director of Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) at SAIT.

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Innovators, help us with our water challenge!
COSIA is calling on innovators to submit new research or potential technologies to passively treat dissolved organic compounds present in oil sands process water (OSPW). As an industry, we are seeking to improve existing or new non-mechanical technologies for better environmental performance. 

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