Ducks praise new bitumen extraction technology.
On the average it takes 3.2 barrels of water for every barrel of bitumen extracted in Alberta oilsands projects.
Because of this the sight of struggling ducks on tarry settling ponds has become the symbol of open pit oilsands mining, a process common among 20% of the Alberta oilsands projects. But ducks are quacking happily about a new waterless process developed by a MCW Energy Group Limited (TSXV: MCW), a Canadian company about to complete its first pilot project in Utah.
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Bitumen’s viscosity and sand’s refractory properties conspire against oilsand producers. On the one hand, bitumen is extremely viscous at room temperature: try taking the asphalt out the pavement with a tablespoon. On the other hand, sand has tremendous packing and insulating properties: it is hard to get heat to penetrate into a layer of sand.
Paradoxically it is easy, though time consuming, to separate bitumen from sand and clay: dump a gallon of gasoline in a bucket full of oilsands, stir, wait a very long time to dissolve the bitumen, stir again, wait some more, and then decant the sand from the dissolved bitumen, evaporate the gasoline—keep away from open flames. But it proves a lot harder to make money from it and not singe your eyebrows irrevocably.
It’s easier to first soften up and float the bitumen with hot water, lots of hot water, followed by separation steps that include the use of an organic diluent (naphtha). This demands massive investments. In the oilsands narrative the economic threshold is $40 a barrel. But what if new technology could eliminate water usage?
MCW has taken the gasoline and bucket principle to new heights in technical mastery. Their patented process describes a new solvent and mixing strategies to completely dissolve bitumen. They replaced the bucket with a giant column (more or less a pipe) and found a way to push oilsand slurry from the bottom of the column while the solvent flows from the top. As the slurry moves up the column it mixes with the solvent on its way down, which permits a near complete dissolution of the bitumen.
MCW then distillates the solvents, which they recycle for the next round of extraction permitting a paltry 16: 1 ratio between energy returned over energy invested. By contrast, the Alberta oilsands project averaged a ratio of 5:1 between energy invested in 2010, a ratio that has improved from 1:1 in the 1970s to 3:1 in the 1990s. According to Dr R.G. Baily, CEO of MCW, the process captures 99% of the bitumen from the oilsands with an economic threshold at $30 per barrel
Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>