Henry Bastidas meets InsituSIM

cloud-based software for oil sands technologies

A cloud-based COSIA software tool that evaluates new oil and gas technologies was instrumental in Henry Bastidas winning first prize in an energy competition and allowing him to rediscover a passion for process improvement.

It all started when SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) formed a research team to tackle a COSIA water challenge. The challenge asked innovators to come up with novel ways to decrease the amount of water used in in situ (in place) facilities and increase the rate at which water could be recycled through operations.

An applied research college, ARIS brings industry partners together with researchers, faculty and students to develop innovative technologies that solve real world problems. For this challenge, the team needed someone with a chemical process background to round out their collective skills, so they asked Bastidas, then a student in his final year of the SAIT Energy Asset Management program, to join them.

A chemical engineer by profession in his home country of Venezuela, Bastidas came to Calgary in 2014 and enrolled at SAIT to learn about the business side of energy. The offer from the ARIS team gave him a graduation project and a chance to flex his process engineering muscles again. “I was really passionate about the opportunity,” Bastidas said.

Steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) is used in in situ operations to heat underground bitumen so that it can be pumped to the surface. Steam generation is a central part of this process. Most SAGD facilities have Once Through Steam Generators (OTSG) which burn natural gas to boil water, producing the steam for underground injection. The steam condenses in the underground reservoir and returns to the surface as water along with the bitumen. Once the bitumen is separated, the water is treated and recycled back into operations as steam.

Recycling can be challenging because process water collects high levels of metals, salts and other impurities that can be hard to remove. The ARIS team planned to evaluate the effectiveness of a membrane barrier. “We wanted to know what would happen if the water was cleaned using membranes before it went to the OTSG, would that make a difference?” Bastidas said.

Bastidas tested the membranes in a variety of scenarios over three months using the InSitu SIM tool, which COSIA developed in collaboration with a Calgary-based company, Process Ecology, specifically to evaluate new technologies for in situ facilities.

“It’s easy to use and you can see if something is going to work right away,” Bastidas explains. “It gives you insight and that helps you decide if it’s worth going to the next phase.” The membranes exceeded expectation in simulation, recycling more water, increasing steam quality, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Bastidas’ work won him, and fellow student and collaborator Clara Lugo, first prize in the 2019 SAIT Energy Dragons contest. Both were offered jobs immediately after graduation. Bastidas is now a commercial operations administrator at Canadian Natural. “It’s great. I’m doing exactly what I went to school to learn,” Bastidas says.

Interested in other stories about students? Check out:
•    How Syed Fasih spent his summer vacation 
•    Up and coming researcher Heidi Cossi wins Vanier award 
•    Tyler MacCormack: I spent my summer vacation at COSIA 

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