Oil sands crude pellets touted as cure for industry's transport headaches

From BNN.ca

The Canadian Press


A dump truck works near the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta , The Canadian Press

CALGARY — A new technology that transforms heavy crude oil into pill-sized pellets could cure the oilsands industry’s transportation headaches, according to University of Calgary professor Ian Gates.

The newly patented technique creates self-sealing balls of bitumen of various sizes that can then be moved in coal rail cars or transport trucks with less risk of environmentally harmful spills, thus reducing the need for new pipelines, he said.

The technology was discovered accidentally by Gates and research engineer Jackie Wang at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering.

“We were trying to upgrade and we learned how to degrade,” said Gates on Wednesday.

“For these products, we’ve taken it to degrading the outer surface of pellets … so we have an intact pellet that’s kind of like a black Advil pill.”Gates said Tuesday a pilot project able to generate one barrel per day of the pellets will start up in November, to be followed by a scaled-up commercial demonstration project able to produce about 600 barrels per day.

He estimated it would cost about $1 million to build a machine that could deliver 100 barrels per day of pellets but added the cost per barrel will fall dramatically with larger scale projects.

Canadian National Railway (CNR.TO 0.36%) unveiled a similar-sounding technology earlier this year, announcing it had filed a patent application for CanaPux, a process that turns bitumen into a semi-solid for transportation by mixing and coating it with polymer.

Read the rest of the story here

HT | Earthling

98 thoughts on “Oil sands crude pellets touted as cure for industry's transport headaches

    • Actually, sorta seems like a really bad idea. Pipelines are far safer, environmentally, and in terms of acute human mortality, than trains and trucks, and a whole lot cheaper too.
      Environmentalists hate pipelines for the very reasons I cite above – because they make oil transport better, and anything that makes oil transport better is BAAD when you hate the very fact that oil exists and is economically feasible.
      Sounds like a solution in search of a pipeline.

  1. What is the relative cost of transporting solids v. liquids by rail v. liquids by pipeline? It seems like that is what really matters, plus the reconversion cost at the refinery.

    • Having worked on the Initial Syncrude project, which now manufactures light crude easy to ship via pipeline, I don’t get it. It seems obvious that a pipeline is the safest, most economic way to transport energy with the lowest amount of energy consumption and CO 2 emissions.
      At Syncrude:
      “Current production capacity is 350,000 barrels per day of high quality light, low sulphur crude oil – enough to supply 6.2 million Canadians with their petroleum requirements. Cumulative production now exceeds 2.4 billion barrels. We annually contribute more than $6 billion to Canada’s economy through the payment of wages, royalties and taxes and ..”
      While Syncrude is manufacturing 350,000 bbl/day these folks are currently talking about 100 bbl/day. How many trucks are needed to fill the single road from Ft McMurray to Edmunton and how much fuel do they burn?
      Instead of using diluent to lighten the crude Syncrude primarily uses conventional refining equipment like a Fluid Coker and other Hydrogen processing to create a clean light crude.

      • This is a local solution to a local problem.
        Transporting by pipeline is obviously cheaper than by rail, but the rail lines are already in place and local politics agitates against new pipelines. Canada’s prime minister is hyping a new policy of respecting the First Nations’ people, so he will lose face if he pushes new pipelines through First Nations’ territories. Being what Lord Monkton (sp?) would call a watermelon, our prime minister is basically against fossil fuel development.
        Pelletized bitumen allows the bitumen to be transported by rail in open hopper cars, not tanker cars. If the pellets spill, they can be swept up. If they end up dumped onto water, they can be collected with nets. If the oil must be transported by rail, it is better to transport the oil as pellets than as a liquid.
        It is a feasible solution to a political problem.

  2. Mr. Layman here.
    What do they do with the pellets at the delivery/processing site?
    Is a new (patented) or additional process required?
    Seems like it would be.

    • PS The truck in the picture is a type used for mining, meaning it is not road worthy.
      It would need to transported to and from the site by a flatbed semi with those “Wide Load” signs.
      (Not trying to be critical, just critique from one who doesn’t know the plan for how the whole process would work.)

      • This would be huge quantities shipped almost entirely by rail. They eliminate the potential for liquid spills and would use coal cars which are simpler and cheaper than tank cars. The pellets can also be made buoyant so spills into water are easily cleaned up.
        The million dollar plant cost is for a small pilot plant. Full scale would be much more cost effective. This is meant as a solution to the anti-pipeline obstructionists who have made it nearly impossible to get bitumen to shipping points. This would also eliminate the need for diluent to be bought and added to bitumen for shipping. An offsetting cost savings. This could be a game changer for the oil sands if it works out.

      • This is meant as a solution to the anti-pipeline obstructionists who have made it nearly impossible to get bitumen to shipping points.

        HA, iffen you don’t eliminate all of the “anti-pipeline obstructionists” they will simply re-direct their energies to whatever method is used to transport bitumen from Point A to Point B.
        The most effective way of eliminating “obstructionists” is to arrest them, ….. charge them with the crime of “obstructing interstate commerce”, ……… place them in jail to await their trial 3 months hence, …….. and only release them pre-trial on a $15,000 “cash only” Bond.

    • They could do two things. Use it like coal in power plants as is or they would mix it with light crude or napthaline which would melt the bitumen into a medium density crude.

      • Hmm they could also probably just melt it. But I think it would be harder on the equipment if it were in its tar like state. I think they would mix with napthaline as I mentioned above.

  3. The schools teach my kids that plastic water bottles are an environmental hazard. Let’s send the empties to Canada and they can recycle by filling with bitumen. Anyone here have Elon Musk’s telephone number — I’m sure he can line up a government subsidy for this.

  4. One of the reasons pipelines are so prevalent is that they are inherently WAY more efficient in terms of cost/mile to get large tonnages from A to B. Putting pellitized liquids into rail cars is definitely a step in the WRONG direction. Rail cars are also less ‘friendly’ environmentally.

    • As a Canadian, I would like to “thank” former POTUS Obama for nixing Keystone. We don’t want to pelletize our crude, but we need to get it to the Gulf refineries somehow, eh?

    • But with this new technology the pellets can simply be rolled to their destination (as long as it’s downhill).

    • The political hurdles for a pipeline in Canada are virtually insurmountable. Canada has a significant sub-culture that seems to want to subvert its economy. They seem to think the government entitlements they enjoy are immune from their efforts to sabotage the underlying prosperity.

      • Heh – the proper terms for these types are; Socialists, Marxists, Communists, Stateist, etc. IOW, all anti-free market capitalists :-/

      • Is this any different from the U.S. sub-culture that is trying to do the same thing? Or the equivalent subcultures in the rest of the Western democracies?

    • Putting pellitized liquids into rail cars is definitely a step in the WRONG direction.

      Me thinks it would be feasible to deposit said “pellitized liquids” into a pipeline and either “blow” or ”float” them from Point A to Point B.
      T’would be a slow transport process ….. but much, much quicker than using trucks or railroad cars.

      • My amusing thought is if the oilsands were on a watershed that emptied into a warm water port (they are not, but with an aqueduct, you might get them to Hudson Bay), all it would take would be a system of floating booms to keep the pellets in the main channel and the pellets could all “Paddle to the Sea” [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhjb1IG1pnQ ], get netted and hauled aboard for their transoceanic voyage.

      • That is an old, old “transport” idea that was employed for a couple hundred years or more.
        Cut timber or logs were floated “downriver” to sawmills for processing.
        Huge “log rafts” were assembled and floated down the West Coast …… from the Northwest US to sawmills near the coast in southern California

  5. When does the US get Interstate Canals?
    Moving by water is cheap – and flexible.
    Pipelines go only to where the pipeline has already been laid.
    Ships can go wherever there is enough water.

  6. It would be better to economically upgrade near the source and eliminate diluent in the pipelines thus raising throughput capacity and maintaining the advantages of pipelines vs trucks or rail. Emerging technologies may deliver this type of step change.

    • I think it’s an interesting saw off. Eliminating the diluent is a sving but piping it to the coast is still cheaper. Most of the fuss has been over the imagined risk of more tanker traffic when spills from newer double hulled tankers are virtually unknown. The bitumen could be pelletized at the coast before loading. Eliminates the spill risk. It will be fascinating to watch the Greens twist themselves into knots over this. It also means the natives probably just protested themselves out of billions!

  7. The 2011 Keystone XL pipeline decision. Crony Capitalism at work
    President Obama has decided to delay the permission to build the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election, thus satisfying the environmentalists that want to wean us off our dependency on carbon based products, such as fuel and fertilizer. The arguments for delaying the decision are nearly exclusively political, while the arguments to build the pipeline are concerns for our national security and economy.
    Here is the deal:
    Canada has the tar-sands and is extracting the oil. This was not our decision. If we don’t buy the oil, China will.
    We are importing crude oil from the Middle East, Nigeria, Venezuela and other volatile places, leaving us exposed to supply and price disruptions.
    We export refined products to the Caribbean islands, which by the way have a larger carbon footprint per person than the U.S. This is good business, since the islands are too small for a refinery.
    It takes more energy to run a refinery up north in a cold climate than in hot, humid Baytown, Texas.
    The last time a major oil refinery was built in the U.S was 1976. A small refinery was built in 1993, in Valdez, Alaska. The US. regulatory climate is hostile to refineries. Colombia, O.K, US. No.
    It costs about $5 per barrel to ship oil through a pipeline from Canada to Texas, nearly all of it capital costs. It costs about $15 per barrel to ship it via railway; much of it is energy cost.
    Warren Buffet’s bought Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad in February 2010 and paid 44 Billion dollars for it. The railroad paid Berkshire Hathaway 2.25 Billion in dividends during the first 13 months. Warren Buffet bought the railroad after Obama took office.
    This railroad can handle all the oil shipped from Canada to Huston during the next decade, even longer with expansion. It is therefore in Buffet’s interest not to build the pipeline.
    Warren Buffet is a major player in the Obama Administration; he has frequent access to the White House and is a major contributor to Obama’s campaign.

    • since the islands are too small for a refinery……..
      Not really…..Esso ran a refinery for Ven-crude in Aruba

    • The dilbit that is making it to the west coast today is coming via Canadian National Railway.
      Largest single shareholder in CNR ? BILL GATES.
      And yes. China and Asia absolutely will get its hydrocarbons and if not from an environmentally well regulated place like Alberta, then instead it will be from Uncle Vlad in Russia whose oil friends are today doing exploratory drilling on the Arctic seabed. Now just imagine a BP style blowout where all the best help and expertise in the world was easily transportable onsite but not in the Gulf of Mexico but in the Arctic where icebreakers are needed to move anything at all.
      The greens think they are saving the planet from oil by opposing pipelines, but they are just shifting the risk probabilities around and not in a good way.

      • “The greens think they are saving the planet from oil by opposing pipelines, but they are just shifting the risk probabilities around and not in a good way.”
        Perhaps, but then perhaps not. We may know what they say they think which might differ from what they actually think. Call me cynical if you like, but could it be that money forms part of their thinking which comes before thoughts, if any, about ‘shifting the risk’? .

    • I saw a 10-15 minute interview on the BNN business channel with the inventor from the University of Calgary who explained the pellet is manufactured with no other sources than the bitumen itself, by incrusting the material into a solid coating that can be easily reconverted back to bitumen by just heating it back up, presumably just melting it back into into its original form. Fascinating story from an engineering and inventors perspective.
      To dispel any myth that this is sponsored by any fossil fuel interest (other than my own – I own some shares in several oil companies) I submitted the article in the Tips and Notes section above on the bar at the top of this website yesterday morning. I can attest that I received no money from fossil fuel interests although if they want to send me money, I accept Interac. I had never clicked on that Tips and Notes link, and now I see plenty of fresh ideas there every day. Now I know where you guys get so many good ideas for this excellent website content, most of which, in the final analysis comes from the commenters here.

      • Earthling – Welcome to the WUWT fold. Over the years I too have submitted a few suggestions at Tips and Notes. Most were ‘dead ends’, a few less were duplicates of previously submitted suggestions (because I was so sure I alone held precious information that just had to get in here, only to eventually find another had beat me at posting the suggestion), and a select few have made it as posts on the main WUWT page.
        Recently, my at-work load has increased and I have been reading instead of adding my thoughts during NA daylight hours. Your post above did strike a chord though – that WUWT has been and continues to be a thoughtful, informative, and at most times convivial place to converse with others interested in similar esoteria.
        I have also experience extreme joy at poking holes into (and fun at) inane ramblings of the one (or many) frequent contributors named Griff.
        So, keep it up, we all can gain additional knowledge and have few laughs, the more of us that contribute here.
        Also – About the syncrude pellets – I wonder if a coal-fired power generation facility could me modified to burn these directly after pelletization, with minimal issues such as excessive sintering and clinkering in the burner box or flue exit areas?

  8. Charles the mo……..

    This site claims it is: “The worlds most viewed site on global warming an climate change.”

    Now, please explain why an article on the processing and transport of oil sands crude is relevant to the topic(s) of global warming and climate change. I am under the impression that this site rejects the notion that the consumption of fossil fuels has anything to do with “global warming” and/or “climate change.” Is it because your sponsors demand these types of articles to tout how clever they are?

    • Mark S Jo……

      Since you don’t complete the address your question must be rhetorical, and addressed to the general readership here. Therefore any of us may reply.

      I see your post as purely ad hominen in nature, a sure-fire indication you have nothing of substance to contribute.

      • Stevan, you obviously don’t understand what ” ad hominen” is. I asked a valid question of the person that posted this article. On the other hand, maybe you can explain to me what the connection is between processing and transport of tar sands crude is with climate?

      • Mark S, Your actual question was:
        ” Is it because your sponsors demand these types of articles to tout how clever they are?”
        Unless you can show that question isn’t an attempt to denigrate Anthony by claiming he is sponsored by the petroleum industry, you are demonstrating that either YOU don’t understand the term “ad hominem”, or you are disingenuous.
        The answer to the question you posed to me is: yes.

      • Mark S Johnson is just another Griff, ……. or maybe one-in-the-same, …….. so ya’ll are just “peeing into the wind” by trying to engage in an intelligent conversation with “it”.

      • Samuel C Cogar September 22, 2017 at 4:52 am
        You are correct about the nature of MSJ & Griff. I posted a response only to show MSJ’s post was garbage, lest a casual reader take no response as a sign that we have no response.
        Unfortunately, I am slower than many responders. When I started creating my response to MSJ there were no responses. By the time my response posted, I was #4. Had their replies posted before I began, I would have left well enough alone. I imagine others felt the same way about responding.

      • Stephen R, in actuality it is kinds entertaining for one to post their learned and intelligent “rebuttal” thoughts in response to MSJ’s & Griff/s “tripe n’ piffle” garbage.
        Said “rebuttal” commentary will hopefully prevent any of the vast “silent majority” of viewers and observers from thinking or believing that the likes of MSJ & Griff actually knows what the ell they are commenting about.

    • “Is it because your sponsors demand these types of articles to tout how clever they are?”
      yep, WUWT is sponsored by a pea shooter manufacturer….we have broad interests

    • Mark can you please click “about” in the menu. Consider the phrase you are harping on as a marketing point. Which in face is correct.

    • Geez Mark S. Johnson…for a skeptic, you sure are negative. Did you not read that each pellet can be injected with a bit of air, making them float in water? When the train crashes thru the bridge, at least it wouldn’t be raw bitumen sinking to the bottom. At least the pellets would all float downstream where they can be collected with no harm to the environment. People complain about dirty ‘tar’ sands oil, and then someone invents a solution to transporting it safely, and you poo-poo it to death. When you drive down the highway you know, if it isn’t concrete, then it is asphalt which is bitumen. Maybe we shouldn’t have paved highways either.

    • Mark S I’m taking your question seriously on the assumption that it was intended that way. I can’t speak for the site per se or others on it but can speak for myself. The reason I got interested in Global Warming is because as an electrical engineer that later drifted into marketing and PR I can recognise propaganda when I see it and when it comes to climate ‘science’ I can do the maths and when I did so I soon realised that the ‘theory’ is in fact an unproven hypothesis that will remain so for ever and a day.
      Being old I can also see that Western countries are trashing their economies with expensive unreliable energy in the name of ‘saving the planet’ while communist countries are burning coal and fossil fuels at break-neck speed without let or hindrance and as a result are growing theirs.
      To me any development that favours a Western economy such as the one under discussion here is of immense interest. I rather like civilisation and would like to see it continue for the benefit of my children and grandchildren and everyone else’s for that matter. Thank goodness someone has found a way to fight back, even if only in a small way.
      Of course, the cycles which govern Earth’s climate are continuing apace regardless of criminals posing as politicians trying to convince us otherwise and all indications are that over the next 20 or 30 years the whole Global Warming argument will become moot. Frozen in time so to speak.
      PS. I’m retired and can afford to write for free and say what I like. And considering what’s at stake for future generations, and as I see it, I can’t afford not to.

  9. Raw bitumen is the key ingredient in asphalt and these pellets can be used raw dumped straight into the hopper. I think these pellets would have a niche place for certain applications, especially for dozens of applications in places where pipelines don’t go. The cost for heated rail cars and diluent, especially the processing and return of diluent, is a big cost. I think this is a positive contribution and who knows what will come of it, but if it assists in public acceptance of a 100 year supply of oil from our friendly neighbours and cousins to the north, then why not?

    • but if it assists in public acceptance of

      GIVE US A BREAK, …….. the public accepts it, ……. it is the “paid for” rift-raft and enviro wacko lemmings that tout their “non-acceptance”.
      What next will you be claiming, …… that the public accepts the rioting, burning and looting of businesses by “you-know-who”, …… who are striving for “peer approval” by being hell-bent on destroying public property and/or for the sole purpose of scavenging “FREE” booze, electronics and sneakers.

  10. Let’s not forget that upgraded bitumen is already transported by rail which implies the risk of transporting this material has already been accepted (thus making the invention unnecessary).

    • Well just because it isn’t necessary, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. For example a derailment gets cleaned up at a fraction of the price of cleaning up bitumen. You can ship in open rail cars like coal and grain is today, those cost a fraction of tank cars. Storage costs plummet, you can just pile them up. The CN version can apparently be made to be stackable. Changes ocean shipping too, my understanding is that in the event of a spill, they just float and you can pick them up with a net.

  11. True story: a helicopter pilot who takes celebrities on tours of the oil sands took Jane Fonda on a tour last year. Flying up, she asked “when will be over the mines?” He answered, “you have been flying over them for ten minutes.” Fact is, they never show pictures of reclaimed mine sites, which are meticulousy restored. If you are an environentalist, and you want a real pay cheque, go work for the oil sands.

    • No one has a clue about Alberta’s Reclamation Laws, which are the strictest in North America. Nothing in the US comes close. NOT even close.

    • Alberta’s government at the time, called the Progressive Conservative government, instituted the reclamation laws over 50 years ago. They became stricter and stricter over time. (I don’t think the name Progressive Conservative still exists, but a Canadian can correct me. I think it’s plain “Conservative” right now.)
      Photographs of the reclaimed mines are breathtaking, as are the photos of the fauna and flora that are now abundant. They turned previously ugly natural mine surfaces–grey sand that was almost quicksand in the Alberta summer–into beautiful places that now house new communities that were never possible for people before.

    • I’ve never understood why Albertans have never told Americans to GFThemselves.
      For some reason we in this country think Albertans are a bunch of putzes who welcome dirty water and air and can’t think for themselves. If you’ve ever been to that incredibly beautiful province, you’d realize that Albertans have been better stewards of their land than we have been here.

      • And it’s enshrined in provincial law. No company in Alberta can dig in your backyard for ANY reason without restoring the surface to the same or better condition without being seriously fined. My gas company here doesn’t have that restriction. Neither does an irrigation company. Not so up there.

    • Tar is made out of Pine pitch, and has been for thousands of years. You do know that, right? I think you meant to say that Bitumen pellets are an excellent idea and will have an application for some things that we will use forever. Including you.

Comments are closed.