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Solvents could help solve GHG emissions

Industry is looking into solvents as a potential breakthrough for reducing carbon emissions associated with oil sands extraction.

One way industry is looking to reduce GHG emissions is by reducing or eliminating the need for energy-intensive steam production during the extraction of bitumen from underground.

At its Foster Creek facility at Cold Lake, Alberta, Cenovus Energy is testing an oil sands extraction technology using a solvent-aided process. It involves adding natural gas liquids (NGLs), a by-product of natural gas production, to the steam that’s injected into the reservoir during the steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) process. The NGLs act as a solvent, thinning the oil for easier recovery. The new process, which will use a higher percentage of solvent than previous pilots, could potentially significantly lower the cumulative steam-to-oil ratio and water treatment costs associated with steam generation. 

At Suncor’s Dover site near Fort McMurray, a consortium of Suncor, Devon Canada, Nexen Energy ULC and Harris Corporation, with funding from Emissions Reduction Alberta, is piloting the use of electromagnetically assisted solvent extraction. The Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating (ESEIEH) technology works much like a microwave, creating electromagnetic heating to warm the reservoir before adding a light hydrocarbon such as butane or propane to mobilize bitumen for production. If successful, this process could potentially reduce energy usage and GHG emissions by 50 to 75 percent.