Technology deployed on Mars could reduce greenhouse gases from tar sands

The Alliance New Ways group, which brings together Alberta’s largest oil producers, on Thursday announced the winner of its competition to find technology that could reduce the use of steam generated with natural gas in the oil sands.

The enterprise Impossible Sensing Energya Calgary-based subsidiary of the American space exploration company Impossible Perceptionwon the $45,000 award for its Sherloc optical imaging technology used on the robot persistence to look for traces of life and carbon compounds on the surface of the red planet.

According to Ariel Torre, co-founder and president ofImpossible Sensing Energythis technology can also detect accurate levels of carbon-based solvents in the oil extraction process.

According to the New Pathways Alliance, the increased use of solvents offers the potential to reduce if not eliminate the need for steam generation, an energy-intensive process, in steam injection separations.

Solvents – such as butane and propane – occur naturally in oil sands bitumen and are used as a much more energy-efficient alternative to steam to make the bitumen fluid enough to flow to a production well.said the New Paths Alliance in a statement.

Oil sands companies are currently using vast amounts of natural gas to generate steam for in-situ extraction in the oil sands.

Wes Jicklingthe vice president for technology development at COSIA, the innovation arm of the New Pathways Alliance, says the industry has long known that solvents like propane and butane can act in a similar way to steam when making bitumen.

If solvents could be substituted for steam in oil sands production, the amount of natural gas consumed by the industry would drop drastically.% and up to 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in some cases by using these solvents. So the potential is enormous.”text”:”With these solvents, we are aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and in some cases up to 90%. So the potential is enormous”}}”>We estimate a 20% and in some cases up to 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the use of these solvents. The potential is hugeexplained Wes Jickling.

Environments with similar difficulties

Another potential benefit is that solvents injected into oil sands deposits with or instead of steam can then be recovered and reused.

Oil sands companies are currently using vast amounts of natural gas to generate steam for in-situ extraction in the oil sands. (Archive)

Photo: The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

According to the President ofImpossible Sensing Energy, Space exploration is not dissimilar to the oil sands environment in that both operate in conditions of extreme remoteness and harsh climatic conditions, and must be able to operate autonomously without operators.

Many NASA exposures are very similar to oil and gas exposuressaid Ariel Torre.

Demonstrate an economic interest

A report released last year by the Pembina Institute shows that the use of solvents in oil sands is the case promising on paperhowever, comes with technical and cost limitations.

The economics of using solvents with steam can be impacted during cycles of low crude oil prices when the cost of using and recovering solvents outweighs production revenuessays the report.

Using solvents to replace steam is just one of the technologies New Paths Alliance member companies are exploring as part of their commitment to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions from 22 million tonnes of production by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Environmental groups have previously criticized the New Paths Alliance for not moving fast enough to cut emissions as oil prices hit record highs last year.

The enterprise Impossible Sensing Energy will work to further develop its technology over the next few years to see if it can be used in the oil sands.

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