Changing Our World: Partnerships Drive Environmental Gains

tailings innovation oil sands

Changing our world 

COSIA brings together the best researchers from Canada and around the world to tackle tough environmental challenges in the oil sands. But researchers need dedicated spaces and state-of-the-art equipment to develop breakthrough science and innovation, which is why top notch research facilities are so important. These world class testing facilities are vital to generating the practical solutions Canadians needs to address important issues like climate change.

Our Changing our World series profiles some of the facilities that are helping to make the oil sands a sustainable industry. The technologies they deliver is supporting Canada’s transition to a carbon neutral economy – one innovation at a time.

Partnerships drive environmental gains

State-of-the-art research facilities such as NAIT’s Productivity and Innovation Centre (PIC), one of North America’s largest innovation spaces, are key to driving environmental performance in the oil sands. NAIT researchers work with four of COSIA’s eight members – those engaged in surface mining – to find novel ways to treat oil sands tailings, developing innovative solutions to this global industry challenge.

Tailings are the processed materials left over after open pit mining. They are a liquid mixture made up of mostly sand, some water and clay, and traces of residual bitumen (an oil mix). These leftover materials go into tailings storage facilities, commonly referred to as tailings ponds. 

The oil sands industry is working to improve tailings management by better monitoring active tailings ponds and developing novel technologies to move them into reclamation sooner. Best practices are shared widely with other industries around the world, as tailings are common to any mining operation. To date, Canada’s oil sands industry has invested more than $10 billion into tailings management and implementation of innovative tailings technology.

Partnerships are important in driving these efforts and in addition to the research collaboration that takes place through its member companies, COSIA also supports three academic research programs through Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC), which are filling important knowledge gaps in tailings management.

PIC is home to NAIT’s Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability, Centre for Sensors and System Integration and other emerging research centres. As a site for world class industry-led applied research, it supports Canadian industry by finding solutions to important problems, contributing to Canada’s economic development.

Listen to Jean-Francois Bouffard, Business Development Director, NAIT Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability, explain how NAIT works with industry partners.

Interested in other stories like these? See
•    Tailings 101: Understanding tailings 
•    What are tailings? 
•    Pioneering reclamation at Lake Miwasin 

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Innovators, can you help us better understand the behaviour of clay?
COSIA is looking for leading-edge technologies to explore the bulk and surface attributes of oil sands clay minerals to effect a beneficial behavioral change in tailings. 

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