First solid bitumen test shipment on its way from Alberta to China

From Mining.com

Energy container. Image by Melius.

Energy container. Image by Melius.

A test shipment of bitumen oil from Alberta is on its way to China, but it didn’t get to a British Columbia port by pipeline – it was moved by train through Prince Rupert in a semi-solid form commonly known as neatbit.

Melius Energy in Calgary is not the first company to propose moving bitumen through BC in a semi-solid form by train, but it appears to be the first to actually land a potential customer in China and start shipping semi-solid bitumen by train.

It has sent its first container, containing 130 barrels of bitumen, to China in a test shipment, and is currently building a new demonstration plant in Edmonton that turns diluted bitumen into a solid called TrueCrude.

Using existing rail infrastructure, Melius says it could potentially move 120,000 barrels per day of pure bitumen in 100-unit trains through the Port of Prince Rupert.

….

Moving bitumen in semi-solid form addresses environmental concerns associated with moving diluted bitumen by rail, pipeline and oil tanker.

The concern is that an oil spill on either land or at sea could have serious environmental impacts. Shipping it in a solid, non-flammable form addresses those concerns. Should a container of TrueCrude ever crack open and end up in the ocean, it would float in one large block that could easily be recovered, the company says.

Full article from Mining.com

and also

From BNN Bloomberg

Oil-sands crude sails from B.C., sidestepping federal ban

A Canadian law barring oil tankers from the northern coast of British Columbia hasn’t stopped crude from setting sail there.

Two Calgary-based companies, Melius Energy and BitCrude, are exploiting a loophole in the law passed this summer — by shipping semi-solid bitumen mined from oil sands on a cargo ship rather than in liquid form on an oil tanker. About 130 barrels of bitumen left Prince Rupert, B.C., on Saturday bound for a refinery in China, according to Cal Broder, founder of both companies and chairman of BFH Corp. He declined to name the cargo’s buyer.

“What this demonstration was for was to show we can meet all regulatory requirements” for shipping out of Prince Rupert, Broder said by phone Wednesday.

Canada’s Senate in June passed Bill C-48, banning oil tankers off the northern B.C. coast, against the objections of the oil sands-producing province of Alberta. Broder was able to get around the ban by sending the bitumen in a 20-foot shipping container in a semi-solid state, undiluted with lighter oils such as condensate.

Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, welcomed the news of the shipment.

“I’ve been following Bitcrude for awhile and am pleased to see exports off the NW coast of B.C.!” she said in a tweet.

Full BNN Bloomberg story here.

HT/Earthling2

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72 thoughts on “First solid bitumen test shipment on its way from Alberta to China

  1. One of the advantages this may have is that many of the containers (and ships) going back to Asia from North America are empty, and therefore can be utilized economically for shipping semi solid bitumen. If this just becomes a niche product in the 101+ million barrel a day oil trade, this could make a lot of sense especially given the political situation with bitumen. And it frees up oil cars on rail, as well as improves pipeline capacity domestically by having an alternative product in a very safe form. Innovation will be key to our prosperity.

    • “Innovation will be key to our prosperity.”
      Let’s just think about this for a second. British Columbia and the federal government in Ottawa have done their level best to choke off and kill industry in Alberta at every turn.
      So does “innovation” mean new, creative ways to circumvent regulations? It seems so.
      It is easy to imagine that this project was kept as ultra-super top secret by all involved. If word had gotten out, blocking lawsuits would have been filed to delay things until legislation banning the activity could have been written and passed.

      It is great that they came up with this scheme, and even better that they pulled it off. It is horrible that they had to resort to this to get any product to tidewater at all.

      • Similar, yes, but different origin. Coal is pressured (by accumulating sedimentary load) terrestrial plant debris, whereas bitumen is thermally de-volatilized oil, sort of distilled to a final solid end-product. Oil is the accumulated bodies of plankton and associates, which were swimming in the ocean, died, and accumulated on the sea floor.

      • One difference is the the bitumen is heated to turn it into a liquid to fill the container and then must be reheated to remove it.

        • Reheating in China is easy. They have lots of low quality coal not suited to power plants.

          I wonder of there is need for another rail line through the Rockies.

          An alternative is to ship the oil north to Inuvik by pipeline and run summertime oil tankers to China via the Bering Strait, now that we are going to have an ice-free Arctic any year now, soon, just around the corner, maybe next year.

          The better answer is to refine the oil in Alberta and establish plastic and chemical industries there. Sending solid bitumen to China is akin to chipping 10 foot diameter logs in Burnaby and sending the chips to Japan to glue it back together to make “beaverboard” for cheap furniture. Insane.

          Heating solid bitumen at the far end is solving a problem that shouldn’t exist. We are landing Venezuelan oil in Halifax and sending solid bitumen west to China because of politicians, not because it makes any sense at all.

      • Maybe not. I thought that TrueCrude would be packaged in discreet containers that would be loaded into regular Conex boxes, but it appears that customized shipping containers have to be used, because the bitumen is transferred in liquid form into the container where it then solidifies. I wonder how they extract it? Heat and pump out?

          • They don’t necessarily say how it is extracted from the containers, but as it is heated and pumped into the containers and allowed to cool into a solid I would assume that reverse process is needed to extract it from the containers. This indeed means dedicated transport containers which will be transported back to Canada empty, unless they pump it into bladders which can be extracted as a large block from an open end of the container. Perhaps if handling this material is a benign as promised (I am a bit skeptical that it is a good as touted) perhaps it could be cast into large bricks and moved by forklift into any suitable container. The biggest issue is what environment can the solid material survive? Just looking it up solid bitumen melts at 240 °F (115 °C). Shipping containers exposed to tropical sun will reach this temperature, unless cooled.

          • I’ve seen chunks of bitumen. Solid black, glossy fracture surfaces. It looks a lot like obsidian but i snot nearly hard.

            If they can empty and clean the containers economically they can be used to ship other goods on the return trip. It not, that’s an added cost, but bitumen is the least pricey form of oil available. It may even be used to fuel some of the container ships carrying it.

          • I’m a bit skeptical of pulling a block of solid bitumin out of a Conex that was poured in as liquid because the sides and roof are corrugated.

          • Sam C specifically stated that ……. “A lining could be inserted in the container,

            Styrofoam is cheap and can easily be made to fit the corrugated sidewalls.

            I try to always insure my mind is in gear before putting my mouth in motion.

    • That’s right give a depressed cognitively challenged 16 sixteen year old who cried with frustration at the UN because she could not get her own way. If this silly little ill-educated girl gets a peace prize then the adults awarding it have entered their second childhood.

    • The Nobel Peace Prize has a proud history of laureates: Yasser Arafat, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Michael Mann(?). Greta fits in nicely.

      • Michael Mann had to admit to court when challenged, (re Mark Steyn) he was not a Nobel Laureate.
        I believe he once played hockey for the US team at the winter Olympics but it was in never never land.

    • British Columbia thought they had the Alberta oil industry bottled up tight and hard. Even this trivial token shipment will have them so outraged that they will be ready to go super-critical and destroy half the country when they detonate.
      Yes, they are going to be upset.

      • Polls have repeatedly shown that most British Columbians support the Transmountain Pipeline Expansion. https://globalnews.ca/news/5400702/bc-trans-mountain-pipeline-poll-support/
        The majority of British Columbians will be cheering if this test is successful, though grain farmers should be worried as grain shipments are already affected by rail capacity. Canada, the country built by a railway has a rail system based on 19th century technology. Maybe these shipments would stimulate some desperately needed upgrades to rail infrastructure.

        • Didn’t Bloomberg just declare that following the will of the people means you aren’t a dictator.
          Does that mean that a leader who ignores the will of the people is a dictator?

    • CO2 is not now nor never has been a driver of climate. The green party are as red as any communist organization on the planet.

  2. This will make the Greens tear their hair out, because they’re trying to shut down the Tar Sands, and now there’s a new way of getting the oil to market. It’s going to be interesting to see the excuse they concoct to stop this one.

    • I suggest that some be diverted to California and DC, along with some truckloads of chicken feathers, for more traditional uses.

    • Greens protesting against cleaning up an oil spill?

      Oh… sorry I forgot, it is a natural one! It’s sacred.

  3. Well done. I am a British Columbian and I am disgusted that my stupid provincial government is holding back the Trans-Mountain pipeline. This way Albertans benefit and BC pump prices keep going up.

  4. My guess is this process can’t compete economically with heavy crude petroleum until world oil prices jump significantly.
    Still its good to have the processes understood so maybe when that day comes…

    All in all though, it is a nice big middle finger to the Greens in BC.

    • Yes, it hard to compete directly with a pipeline, although that is the issue with Alberta bitumen with limited pipes either west with stalled Kinder Morgan, east with the cancelled Energy East line or south with the delayed Keystone. The Greens will be green with envy…hehehe.

      In this case they don’t need to use any condensate to thin the oil, or heat it to keep it a thinner liquid such as the heated rail cars or even ships. Western Canada Select is selling at a moderate discount to WTI and Brent, and along with the CAD dollar discount, there is room to hopefully scale up the tech and get the costs down and be somewhat competitive. I remember growing up on the prairies in the 1960’s that Syncrude oil was going to be expensive and they worked hard for 40 years, but they have managed to innovate a lot of costs down and are making money now even with the free fall in oil prices.

      Would be nice to see some shipments east through Quebec to Atlantic Canada refineries, where Canada is importing a fair bit of foreign crude oil from the likes of Saudi Arabia…where there is no tanker ban. Plus there are a fair number of refineries globally now that were built for heavy oil, and hard to get product especially with Venezuela down on their luck. I think this product will find a niche over time, especially if it takes most of the risk out of shipping to sensitive markets.

  5. Terrific news!
    Environmentalists will be very pleased and right behind this development because it reduces all concerns about environmental damage of possible pipeline leakage and pipeline construction. It also reduces issues in freight and handing.
    I am sure Canadian governments, Greenpeace and all others with concerns over oil pipeline proposals will be right behind this. I can’t wait to see their accolades!

    • Enviros are NEVER satisfied. Their purpose in life is to feel morally superior. They can only feel that good by being perpetually indignant.

  6. Seems the climate crybabies are all at sea when it comes to getting off fluids and onto a solids diet-
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQcvZn7-_VE&t=0s
    Getting all that hard plastic off will take some doing if the future generations are not to end up with incendiary mountains but no worries with plenty of Green hard yakka for all the Gretas and the ‘Kids a Comin!’
    Piece rates should do nicely I reckon what with 4110 of them in an M3 battery pack.

  7. Canada’s Senate in June passed Bill C-48, banning oil tankers off the northern B.C. coast

    That is economic suicide.

  8. Won’t these shipping containers need a plastic-bag type of lining put in, so the bitumen won’t ooze out the corners when it gets warm? Those containers aren’t leakproof from inside, I suspect.

    • They’re leak proof except for the floor and doors. My guess is they weld in a metal floor and side where the doors are, and install a pipe flange for extraction.

      • Thanks. I was just about to comment that a simpler solution than a plastic pouch would be the application of some sealant and/or gasket.

    • Yes, they will have to be specialized shipping “tanks” whose only use will be for transporting this material. This means they sail back empty. Tough collapsible bladders might be better to free up return volume but transporting empty tanks is hardly useful.

      A potential solution: Ship multi-ton blocks (encased in large plastic tubs) movable by forklift in standard shipping containers which are stacked deep internally to avoid solar heating.

      How combustible is this stuff as it melts and heats? Is volumetric expansion an issue? Explosive atmosphere accumulation?

      • It is probably early days for this technology, and making it work technically and economically will undoubtedly be refined to be the most efficient from manufacturing to shipping. CN Rail in Canada also has their own proprietary program to develop bitumen pellets encapsulated in a natural polymer, and Warren Buffett is also a major shareholder in CN as well as SunCor who is the largest developer of bitumen in Alberta. This has some major support behind it and I am sure they will get the kinks out with practical engineering solutions. https://www.cninnovation.ca/

        Personally, I sort see this like a farmer with putting up hay. Square bales were a huge improvement over loose hay, and large 1000 pound round/loaf bales were that much more efficient than square bales. I think a much larger semi solid bitumen product the size of a 1 ton square bale that can be handled by a normal container and equipment would make more sense than billions of pucks or pellets and specialized shipping containers. The market will probably figure it out.

        • As with all bulk material handling much will tailored to the machine which is meant to accept it for fuel. Pelletized bulk can be more easily transported via conveyor belt or tube, and is probably easier to burn, but is also more easily spilled and more difficult to clean up.
          Blocks are easier to lift and stack, but probably require some processing prior to combustion such as grinding or shredding.

  9. Bitumen is a good friend of mine. This distilled oil product is essentially pure carbon, and is activated carbon. Any oil that migrated upward into a reservoir trap, underwent natural thermal distillation, ended up as bitumen. This activated carbon then captured any metals being transported either by acidic surface waters or expelled acidic waters from deeper in the sedimentary sequence. The surface waters tend to produce simple copper or uranium deposits, whereas the deeper originating acidic waters tend to produce copper-cobalt-vanadium-uranium-silver deposits. The bitumen, when exposed at the surface, converts to carbon dioxide (C+O2=CO2) and the rock is no longer black. I discovered a very important uranium mineralized project, by looking deep into canyon bottoms (utilizing airborne radiation anomaly maps), where erosion presented fresh bitumen zones, and discovered The Black Zone. Note the direct conversion, naturally-no SUV’s included in the process, of bitumen to CO2!

    • Ron you are behind the times in geology. It is interesting that you are making up a theory to keep the fossil fuel theory alive.

      Geology is odd. They are siting on hard observational paradoxes that change everything,

      The Fossil Fuel theory is founded on the Recycle theory of water and CO2.

      The Recycle theory of water and CO2 is also the basis for the Bern equation (Bern equation is named after the city of Bern and is a fake model of CO2 sinks and sources) that is the basis for CAGW.

      The Recycle of water and CO2 has been found to be incorrect by recent observations.

      We are losing three times more water dragged down by the ocean plates that is coming out from volcanoes. This is the current water problem.

      There is also an early earth water problem. The earth was hit by a Mars sized object that formed the moon and removed most of the water from the mantel. How is it possible that the earth is now covered 70% with water,

      There is also a timing of advance life water problem.

      One of why reasons the Fossil fuel theory is dead it is it cannot explain naturally why all oil and Bituminous coal on the planet contains a suite of heavy metals (including uranium and thorium).

      The amount of the suite heavy metals in the oil increase with crude viscosity.

      The Fossil Fuel theory cannot explain why the amount of heavy metals increases with crude viscosity.

      Conventional light refiners cannot process even a small amount of the Alberta b oil mixed in with light oil as the heavy metals in the heavy oil damage the light oil refinery catalysts.

      The Fossil Fuel theory cannot naturally explain the massive super large crude deposits. Why would there be a super abundance of life and its residue in Alberta? Why the super concentration of heavy metals in the oil?

      There is 1.75 Trillion barrels of heavy oil in the three Alberta reserves that cover an area larger than England.

      This is a map that shows the three super large Alberta heavy oil reservoirs. Note the reservoirs are 60 to 90 meters deep, covering an area larger than the UK.

      The heavy metals content in each of the three reservoirs is similar but unique and uniform for each of the three reservoirs.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_oil_sands#/media/File:Athabasca_Oil_Sands_map.png

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_sands

      Most of the Canadian oil sands are in three major deposits in northern Alberta. They are the Athabasca-Wabiskaw oil sands of north northeastern Alberta, the Cold Lake deposits of east northeastern Alberta, and the Peace River deposits of northwestern Alberta. Between them, they cover over 140,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi)—an area larger than England—and contain approximately 1.75 Tbbl (280×109 m3) of crude bitumen in them.

      to the implications of hard observational paradoxes.

      There are currently two hard paradoxes in geology. Hard Paradoxes are observations that are physically impossible to explain by the recycle theory of water and CO2.

      The Fossil Fuel theory is a dead theory. The Fossil Fuel theory was developed by the API (American Petroleum Institute).

      The Fossil Fuel theory is founded on the Recycle theory of water and CO2.

      The Recycle theory of water and CO2 is also the basis for the Bern equation (Bern equation is named after the city of Bern and is the CAGW model of CO2 sinks and sources) that is the basis for CAGW.

      The Recycle of water and CO2 has been found to be incorrect by recent observations.

      We are losing three times more water dragged down by the ocean plates that is coming out from volcanoes. The solution to this problem is there must be a massive source of CH4 coming into the biosphere.

      One of why reasons the Fossil fuel theory is dead it is it cannot explain naturally why all oil and Bituminous coal on the planet contains a suite of heavy metals (including uranium and thorium).

      The amount of the suite heavy metals in the oil increase with crude viscosity.

      The Fossil Fuel theory cannot explain why the amount of heavy metals increases with crude viscosity.

      Conventional light refiners cannot process even a small amount of the Alberta b oil mixed in with light oil as the heavy metals in the heavy oil damage the light oil refinery catalysts.

      The Fossil Fuel theory cannot naturally explain the massive super large crude deposits. Why would there be a super abundance of life and its residue in Alberta?

      Why the super concentration of heavy metals in the super heavy oil?

      There is 1.75 Trillion barrels of heavy oil in the three Alberta reserves that cover an area larger than England.

      This is a map that shows the three super large Alberta heavy oil reservoirs. Note the reservoirs are 60 to 90 meters deep, covering an area larger than the UK.

      The heavy metals content in each of the three reservoirs is similar but unique and uniform for each of the three reservoirs.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_oil_sands#/media/File:Athabasca_Oil_Sands_map.png

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_sands

      Most of the Canadian oil sands are in three major deposits in northern Alberta. They are the Athabasca-Wabiskaw oil sands of north northeastern Alberta, the Cold Lake deposits of east northeastern Alberta, and the Peace River deposits of northwestern Alberta. Between them, they cover over 140,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi)—an area larger than England—and contain approximately 1.75 Tbbl (280×109 m3) of crude bitumen in them.

      [Remove duplicated paragraphs? .mod]

  10. This once again proves that innovation is stronger than regulations. Peoples living in Alberta are the most hard working brains and muscles of the country. I’m am quite proud to see that again theirs intelligence completly surpass ideological regulations.

    The best parts for me, a citizen of Quebec province, is that they can litteraly go around us and the blocking of pipelines, avoiding paying fees to win legals battles and then build and maintain a pieline in provinces that are trying to suffocate them.

    In the end Quebec and British Columbia greens are the only losers. They made sure we, the moderate peoples, does not receive benefits that could help us. Then there is that fantastic new technology that will destroy a good part of the usual arguments against moving oil around.

  11. I’m wondering what container is used to package a TrueCrude cube, or if it is solid enough to ship on a pallet simply wrapped in something.

  12. When does BC ban it or start the dirty container tax?

    Let’s face it BC has grown rich off capital flight from China.

  13. Heat it to put it into a container then heat it to remove it from the container, that can’t be cheap. I’d like to see the math for the ROI

  14. China is going to obtain the materials they want no matter how loud Western teenagers screech and insist upon the moral imperative of economic suicide.

    Someday the Gretas of the West will grow up and be glad they didn’t pull it off. Let’s hope they don’t ruin too many lives along the way.

  15. As the old saying goes
    “Where there’s a will there’s a way”
    Just like so much of the bureaucracy that we have to deal with nowadays as long as the box is ticked it’s happened whether or not it has is irrelevant.

    James Bull

  16. If the containers could be disassembled, then heating upon arrival wouldn’t be necessary. Blocks could be stockpiled for future use.

    I’m sure enviros will be in court in 3…2…1.

  17. The density of bitumen is very close to that of sea water. Adding in the mass of the container, it may not float if the container went overboard while in transit.

    • Good point Loren and I am sure that will be tested. If that were true, perhaps injecting a tiny bit of air into each puck/pellet would add the necessary buoyancy. When they are processing the raw bitumen at this production facility, they will have the opportunity to ‘improve’ the necessary characteristics of the product to achieve the final result that is desired. Floating is probably one the highest attributes this product has, and lack of pollution if spilled is the main selling point. Losing the entire container would be a bummer.

  18. Prince Rupert is 2 ship days closer to China than is Vancouver. A huge factor in costs.

    As well the rail costs are lower. Chicago for example is closer to Prince Rupert than it is to Vancouver, meaning many of the empty containers headed to China already go thru Rupert, with major expansion underway.

    It makes HUGE economic sense to fill the empty container before sending them to China.

    And since 1/2 the bitumen will be used for roads, this will cut CO2 emissions by 1/2, no doubt saving a fortune in carbon taxes.

  19. If I were a wealthy market manipulator I would sell short the shares of any public company involved in the tar sands, then fund activist groups to conduct lawfare against it to get the courts or the legislature to stop it and then cash in when the share price collapsed. If I were a wealthy market manipulator, that is – you know, just like …

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