Radio frequency tech tested for producing Suncor oil sands bitumen

Pilot project led by Suncor could dramatically reduce carbon emissions, costs for in situ bitumen production

Suncor

Photo: Suncor Energy.

Suncor Energy is testing a new radio frequency technology combined with solvent that could eliminate steam from its oil sands production and reduce energy use by 75 per cent, the company announced Tuesday.

Suncor, Canada’s largest energy company, says the pilot for oil recovery within an in situ reservoir is the first of its kind.

The technology, Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating (ESEIEH, pronounced “easy”), uses radio frequency to heat the reservoir and adds a solvent which facilitates the movement of the bitumen to the surface.

Suncor

Photo: Suncor Energy.

“The ESEIEH technology, if successful and commercially viable, has the potential to improve economic and environmental performance in the oil sands by eliminating the need for water at in situ operations, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing our environmental footprint,” said Gary Bunio, general manager of oil sands strategic technology, Suncor in a release.

Harris’ patent pending antenna technology heats the oil sands bitumen electrically with radio waves. A hydrocarbon solvent is then injected to dilute and mobilize the bitumen, using minimal energy, so that it can be produced to the surface and transported for further processing.

By reducing the energy required and eliminating the need for water, the ESEIEH process is expected to improve environmental performance, increase efficiency, reduce capital expenditures, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from in situ bitumen production, the release said.

This transformative technology has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from in situ bitumen production.

“Anytime you can develop a resource that is more environmentally benign and economically advantageous is going to be a strategic advantage. I would say it’s going to be critical to the long-term success of oil sands,” Mark Bohm, manager in situ technology development at Suncor, told Reuters.

The ESEIEH project partners are Devon, Nexen Energy ULC, Suncor, Harris Corporation, with funding in part from the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC).

The technology will be tested at Suncor’s Dover test site, north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

“The partners are working together on a new technology that has the potential for significant economic and environmental advantages over traditional extraction processes,” says Brian Blakey, VP and GM of energy solutions, Harris.

“The new technology benefits from Harris’ leadership in radio frequency science and engineering.”

The group has been collaborating on this technology since 2011 with initial physical testing of the technology in 2012 at the Suncor Steepbank mine facility.

Testing will now begin at an in situ reservoir for about 24 months.

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