IHS Engineering Workbench

Using a highly advanced search engine to identify technologies that utilize low temperature waste heat
Identify and advance technologies that will increase the energy efficiency of in situ operations

One of the key opportunity areas for the Greenhouse Gases (GHG) Environmental Priority Area (EPA) is to identify technologies that can economically use low grade waste heat as a source of energy.

Heat is a common byproduct of oil sands in situ operations. Most steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) facilities recycle this heat through an exchange system called a glycol loop. The glycol loop primarily absorbs heat from the inlet oil emulsion and redistributes it to other areas of the facility. There it is used, for example, to preheat water for steam generation or to heat buildings in the winter time. Significant amounts of low-grade waste heat are generated at 60 to 80 degrees Celsius which is vented to the atmosphere as warm air. This vented heat represents an opportunity to SAGD operators – capturing it for re-use could limit the need to use new energy in other areas of the process.

Members of the GHG EPA are aware of and exploring a number of waste heat utilization technologies. They are looking to identify other more promising technologies that could be used to efficiently and economically convert waste heat into a valuable source of energy.

Technology and Innovation

In order to find other novel technologies, the GHG EPA enlisted the help of IHS and its highly advanced search engine technology, Engineering Workbench, to search the globe for promising technologies from other sectors.

Learn more about IHS Engineering Workbench

Learn more about IHS Engineering Workbench
IHS provides global market, industry and technical expertise to industries in just about every sector – from oil and gas to biomedical. They provide a number of different solutions based services including their search technology.

IHS Engineering Workbench is technologically and linguistically advanced software that can condense extensive amounts of text into semantically searchable data. According to IHS’s Matt Coates, who worked with the GHG EPA on the project, this means that the search tool runs natural language algorithms to assess the relevance of a document to the question or phrase being searched. 

Cathy describes the technology as, “Google on steroids, combined with a team of intelligent beings.” 

Because it has the ability to not only search documents for terms but understand the terms in the context of sentence structures, it means that hundreds of thousands of documents can be reviewed much more quickly than if a person were to read through them all. 

The technology has been used across a number of industries to find solutions to complex problems. It’s even been used by the developers of mobile phone touch screen glass to identify ways to manufacture their technology effectively and economically.

The search engine is used to help identify game changing solutions by helping companies articulate their needs and then identify solutions to address them.

The first step was to break down the issue of waste heat utilization at in situ facilities into specific challenges and potential solutions. A list of search terms was developed.

These search terms were then taken by IHS and used to develop an initial technology report for the Working Group to review. The process identified about 20 individual technologies from a number of different sectors. The technologies included:

  • Organic Rankine Cycle technologies focused on utilizing very low quality heat. This technology uses heat to vaporize a working fluid which is used to power a generator, producing electricity.
  • Thermoelectric power generation technologies that use the temperature difference between two surfaces to convert heat into electricity.

About half of those technologies are in the very early stages of development and some of them were known to a number of the participants.

IHS then conducted a workshop to develop specific criteria for evaluating the initial list to determine what aspects of a technology were most important to the group. Following the workshop, the group participated in a root cause analysis of one of the identified technologies to better understand the barriers to implementation. 

Environmental Benefits

“At SAGD operations, heat is considered waste when it drops below a certain temperature, because we run out of receivers to accept that heat,” says Cathy Crawford, a development engineer in Devon Canada’s technology development team.

“You can’t use glycol to preheat another fluid already hotter than the temperature of the glycol because you would end up cooling it. This is when it becomes a waste stream. But, if we could use this heat to do something productive, it’s free energy.”


“The whole process of deconstructing the issue really helped the members of the GHG EPA to think about waste heat utilization in terms of the solutions we want to find,” says GHG EPA Director, Jonathan Matthews. “Going forward that is going to make it easier to identify the technologies that best fit the industry’s needs.”

All members of the GHG EPA participated in the low grade heat activity search. These include BP, Canadian Natural, Cenovus, ConocoPhilips Canada, Devon, Imperial, Nexen, Teck and Suncor.

Greenhouse Gases