CALGARY, Alberta – A Calgary company’s leading-edge technology – originally used by NASA to search for life on Mars – is coming down to earth to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands.
Impossible Sensing Energy edged out competitors from around the world in a Pathways Alliance global challenge to find a key piece of measurement equipment that will help accelerate the widescale use of steam-reducing technologies in oil sands operations.
“We take great pride as a Canadian company in playing a role to help develop our country’s energy resources more sustainably and we are committed to helping Pathways Alliance achieve its net zero goal,” said Ariel Torre, Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer of Impossible Sensing Energy.
“Addressing the global energy challenge to reduce emissions, while ensuring the world benefits from responsible, safe and secure sources of energy to meet global demand is central to the work we do every day.”
The company’s optical sensing technology, called FLOW, was awarded first prize among more than 50 global competitors – including those from a U.S. Ivy League University, Sweden, and the UK – in the challenge to find a measurement device that can continuously identify precise amounts of solvents recovered in oil sands production.
The technology was first developed by the company’s U.S. affiliate for use by the Mars Perseverance Rover to find traces of life on the planet’s surface. The same advanced optical technology used to search for trace amounts of potential carbon-based past life on Mars can detect precise amounts of solvents (hydrocarbons) in the oil production stream.
The increased use of solvents offers a breakthrough potential to reduce—or eliminate—the need for energy-intensive steam generation in steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations.
Replacing steam in SAGD production with solvents could result in up to a 90% reduction of CO2 emissions.
However, to fully advance the process, the industry has been searching for a real-time, accurate method to measure the precise amounts and concentrations of solvents to maximize recycling throughout the full oil recovery process.
Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), the innovation arm of Pathways Alliance, contracted technology accelerator Plug and Play Alberta to lead a global competition, which saw the FLOW technology win the top prize of $45,000.
“The tremendous response to this challenge continues to demonstrate the great level of partnership the oil sands industry has with leading innovators from around the world,” said Wes Jickling, Vice President, Technology Development for Pathways Alliance.
“We know there is no single path to net zero and no one company or one sector can get there alone. It will require multiple pathways and collaboration with some of the world’s brightest minds. It’s great to see some of the brightest are right here in our own backyard.”
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- Solvents – such as butane and propane – are naturally occurring in oil sands bitumen and are used as a much less energy intensive alternative to steam to help bitumen become fluid enough to flow to a producing well.
- The use of steam reduction technologies in oil sands extraction is one of the most promising and important technologies of dozens being advanced to help the Pathways Alliance reduce emissions by 22 million tonnes per year by 2030 and achieve its goal of net zero by 2050.
- Cost effectiveness is important in efforts to widely commercialize the use of solvents in oil sands production. The economics of solvent use is dependent on the ability to recycle it. By measuring the solvent in the production stream, it can be determined how much is being returned and can adjust processes to maximize recycling.
- The use of a real-time automated inline measurement tool will offer a more exact and reliable way than current manual snap-shot in time sampling and will improve recycling of solvents. This will help ensure the emissions reduction technology is advanced more quickly and cost effectively.
- Two more Calgary companies with a promising joint submission were chosen as runners up and will be awarded a technological-economic assessment valued at $35,000. Burnt Rock Technologies Ltd., a chemistry service company, and Exergy Solutions Inc., which provides advanced design solutions, submitted a proposal for a technology that’s already used in many industrial facilities and could be modified for use in the oil sands.
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