How a software company is microwaving Alberta’s oilsands

As oilsands companies work to meet their climate targets and face an incoming limit on whole emissions from the federal federal government, there has in no way been as significantly target on how the business in northern Alberta can cut its broad air air pollution. The result is a wave of technological innovation, such as ideas first conceived several many years back — like microwaving the oil out of the ground.

That is basically the engineering developed by Calgary-dependent software program enterprise Acceleware, which commenced creating oil at its demonstration facility in the province very last thirty day period in close proximity to Lloydminster.

Underground, the firm employs radio waves to heat up oil, which is then pumped to the floor. The technological innovation stays in progress and still faces challenges, but its backers say it has the potential to lower carbon emissions in the sector.

“Because the 40s, persons have imagined of the idea of making use of radio frequency energy to deliver oil,” reported Acceleware’s CEO Geoff Clark.

In the past, even in modern a long time, scientists ended up using radio or Television station devices, which Clark stated doesn’t get the job done properly as a warmth source.

“In our opinion, the frequency ranges are all mistaken, the effectiveness is all mistaken and the cash price tag of that communications gear is way also higher,” he claimed.

Acceleware injects radiofrequency underground working with two heating traces. After the oil is warmed up, it flows down into the producer nicely and is pumped up to the surface area. (CBC Information Graphics)

When oilsands businesses drill oil wells, they typically warmth up the bitumen working with steam, which is produced employing purely natural gas. If radio wave technologies is effective, firms could lessen their emissions and water use. There could be operational and capital cost discounts far too, Clark explained.

“Applying electrification to decarbonize the output of significant oil is really what we’re making an attempt to do,” he mentioned. “The massive problem for us is to exhibit that we are carrying out what we say the know-how can do.”

Oil is pumped to the surface at this wellhead as part of Acceleware’s take a look at undertaking. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The Acceleware demonstration facility commenced functioning in March and began manufacturing oil in April, while the business would not say how considerably. The firm is step by step raising the volume of electricity to exam how considerably heat and oil can be created.

The program is to function the task for 6 to 12 months, to get plenty of info. Acceleware isn’t going to want to be an oil business itself, but instead provide and provider the products to oilpatch producers.

The technological know-how could be prepared for use in market as quickly as future year, the organization mentioned, if the demonstration is profitable.

View | How Acceleware got the concept to use radio waves in the oilpatch:

For than 10 many years, Acceleware has worked to create technology to microwave the oilsands

The strategy arrived from a undertaking in California, claims Geoff Clark, the company’s CEO. 1:54

‘It’s early days’

Acceleware, which was launched in 2004 as a software program business, has been given a lot more than $15 million in federal government grants from Alberta Innovates, Emissions Reduction Alberta and Sustainable Advancement Technological innovation Canada. Industry companions include oilsands heavyweights Suncor and Cenovus.

“It is really early times, but it really is interesting,” said Bryan Helfenbaum, govt director of innovative hydrocarbons at Alberta Innovates, a provincial federal government company. 

Acceleware is moving into a “important issue,” he mentioned, as the subsequent several months will clearly show what kind of oil production is feasible at what depth, scale, selling price and duration. 

“There’s a good deal of things that will go into the professional viability and regardless of whether this is a solution that could be utilized pretty broadly, or additional of a specialized niche option,” said Helfenbaum. “This is a definitely novel method that can drastically decrease our emissions, specially as the Alberta energy grid greens over time.”

Check out | Hefty oil producers are screening numerous approaches to reduce emissions these types of as working with solvents, like butane:

Investigate underway to slash emissions in the oilsands

There are quite a few ongoing jobs to take a look at new approaches and technological know-how to lower pollution from the oilsands, states Bryan Helfenbaum, with Alberta Innovates. 1:39

Helfenbaum was aspect of a identical challenge various many years in the past prior to he joined Alberta Innovates, as Suncor and other market users explored using radio waves and solvents to develop underground heat. 

The challenge expense extra than $100 million, but was hardly ever fully examined, Helfenbaum reported, mainly because of set up and other difficulties.

Florida-based TerraVent Environmental has considering that obtained the technology and the organization mentioned it is continuing with development.

Acceleware started to create oil in April at its demonstration web page close to Lloydminster, Alta. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Numerous doable answers

There are dozens of other investigate jobs underway aimed at reducing emissions in the oilsands, such as a target on reducing the amount of steam demanded to warmth up underground bitumen. Some organizations are experimenting with working with solvents and substances.

If Acceleware is successful with its know-how, the firm could branch out into industries such as hydrogen creation or grain drying.

“We consider that we’ve picked out the toughest application initially and that’s the a person that’s 500 metres underground,” mentioned Clark.

Oon-Doo Baik, a University of Saskatchewan engineer who reports radio frequency heating of biomaterials, explained it can be an “electrical power-economical system, but it is a advanced approach.” There needs to be a superior expertise of the electromagnetic subject, for instance, to use the know-how competently and thoroughly in related industries, he stated, in an emailed reaction about radio frequency heating.

Most oilsands providers have set a focus on to get to net-zero by 2050, although the federal federal government is anticipated to introduce an emissions restrict for the marketplace later this 12 months.

Oilsands facilities in northern Alberta account for about 11 for each cent of Canada’s total carbon emissions. The federal federal government expects the oilpatch to cut emissions by extra than 40 per cent by 2030.

Acceleware’s $21-million undertaking has assistance from three govt funding sources and three oil organizations. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)