bitumen transported more efficiently through pipelines.
It’s a problem that has lasted as long as bitumen has needed to be shipped. How do you move heavy bitumen in a cost effective way through pipes without having to dilute it to a point where it is able to flow freely?
It’s a question that hasn’t had an answer. Until now, heavy bitumen required dilution from an expensive product called diluent to allow it to flow freely through pipelines.
The problem with this process , apart from the cost of adding and stripping this diluent from the raw bitumen — is that it lowers the amount of bitumen that can be transported through a pipeline at any given time.
And one company is setting up shop in hopes to put an end to this practise. MEG Energy is starting a pilot project in Brudurheim that they hope will make this process a thing of the past.
“This is a pilot project for a technology that we’ve developed at a very small scale so far to improve the quality of diluted bitumen blends,” explained Brad Bellows, a spokesperson with MEG.
The benefits of the project, if indeed the project proves successful, would be two-pronged, Bellows said.
“This isn’t as energy intensive or capital intensive as coking techniques. Because of that and the air impacts, it should have some benefits to the environment,” he said.
“In terms of moving Alberta’s product, it has benefits because it allows us to ship the product without moving diluent.” Currently, diluent is added by volume to take up one-third of the pipeline.
If that is able to be removed, it would effectively increase the amount of raw bitumen that could be moved by 50 per cent, Bellows said.
And while MEG is looking forward to what a technological breakthrough like this could mean for the industry, those involved are being careful not to get too far ahead of themselves.
“There’s a lot of potential upside, but the key right now is that it is a learning process. “We are trying to fine tune the processes,” Bellows said.
“If we can prove the tech on a commercial basis, it would effectively free up pipeline capacity to move Alberta product to markets, and be moving a value-added product to markets.”
Shold the project prove to be commercially viable, it would also lower water usage, Bellows said.
The project is currently valued at just over $103 million.
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