Improving energy efficiency would save money for oilsands producers

Investment in new energy-efficient, greenhouse gas mitigation strategies by oilsands producers could net them some important profits, according to a model developed by a research group at the University of Alberta. There is also the potential for average greenhouse gas mitigation of 7.6 million tonnes per year.

Engineering professor Amit Kumar and his team investigated 15 strategies covering all areas of the oilsands sector—in situ extraction, upgrading and surface mining—and found that each strategy could financially benefit oil sands extraction operations, writes a statement.

In their paper, Kumar’s group predicts that if the strategies are implemented, there is potential to reduce cumulative energy consumption in the oilsands by eight percent and greenhouse gas emissions by seven percent by 2050. The average greenhouse gas mitigation would be 7.6 million tonnes per year.

According to the Government of Alberta, oilsands operations currently emit approximately 70 million tonnes per year.

Research engineer Matthew Davis, one of the authors of the study, explained that the strategies examined—each with short payback periods—were all based on upgrading existing technologies, increasing energy efficiencies of current day-to-day operations, and processes.

“These are all things that we see as being able to be implemented within a very short time frame,” he said.

The best strategies identified were improved in situ heat exchange networks and utility-based improvements, which showed greenhouse gas mitigation potentials of 72.9 and 85.9 million tonnes at a cost saving by 2050. These savings are comparable to a federal carbon tax, which would cost producers $50 per tonne for chargeable emissions by 2022.

To build the data-intensive, technology-based model on which they made their findings, the team built a sector-wide model of all the energy inputs and energy end-uses in oilsands extraction processes.

The energy use model was then applied to the next step of the process, the projection of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions until 2050.

Photo credit: Suncor Energy/ Flickr Creative Commons


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