Energy and environmental solutions to a persistent industry challenge

oil sands operations

Guest blog from: 
Dr. Bernhard Mayer, NSERC- Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) Lead, University of Calgary and Dr. Vita Martez, NSERC-Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Oil Sands in Situ Steam Generation and Clean Technologies, SAIT

SAIT has opened a second Once Through Steam Generation (OSTG) laboratory in the University of Calgary’s Research Centre Building. “The in-situ steam research and scaled-up testing at the OTSG#3 pilot-rig will not only accelerate leading edge solutions for industry, but it will also contribute to student experiential learning by creating opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills to transform, and lead or serve in the energy industry and its emerging technologies.” says Tom Bornhorst, Vice President, SAIT Corporate Development, Applied Research and International.

The NSERC collaborative research and development (CRD) research is led by Principal Investigator, Bernhard Mayer, University of Calgary, with Vita Martez, SAIT and Sean Sanders, University of Alberta, along with a multidisciplinary team of reputable professors and researchers from all three academic organizations. A unique aspect of their work is that this pilot-scale steam generator from Suncor’s Intellectual Property will allow the teams to replicate the function of full-sized units in operating oil sands facilities.

The goal of the CRD research in the pilot-rigs is to reduce fouling by inorganic and organic deposits, and erosion and corrosion that occur in boilers, such as the OTSGs widely used in Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) operations in the oil sands. The research outcome is to find energy and environmental solutions to one of industry’s persistent operational problems.

Steam that is generated through OTSGs are central to in-situ operations in the oil sands. “Conventional boilers are not efficient in using poor quality feed water, while OTSGs are able to tolerate poor quality feed water and turn it into steam,” explains Dr. Vita Martez, the NSERC Industrial Research Chair at SAIT. “A principal challenge of this low-quality boiler feedwater over time is the impact on OTSG performance and the extent of its unreliability to prevent erosion and corrosion.”

“This research will provide insights into the erosion and corrosion fundamentals previously unavailable to operators, even after more than 30 years of commercial operation,” says John Brogly, Director, COSIA Water Environmental Priority Area. “It will result in more efficient operations of commercial once-through steam generators, significantly reducing the environmental footprint through reduced water use and greenhouse gas emissions oil sands in situ sector.”

The OTSG#3 pilot-rig and lab is overseen and operated by SAIT’s Centre for Energy Research in Clean Unconventional Tech Solutions (CERCUTS) in the department of Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS). It is associated with SAIT’s NSERC-Chair program and University of Calgary’s $2.0M NSERC-CRD project supported by COSIA and federal and provincial funders to conduct in-situ steam research.

SAIT’s OTSG#3 pilot-rig will intake typical OTSG feed water (treated recycled water)  in order to investigate and evaluate the erosion and corrosion on a test article situated downstream from the steam generator. Researchers will be able to run a range of experiments, using both synthetic water and typical boiler feedwater from SAGD facilities under controlled conditions. 

OTSG#3 steam generation research at SAIT is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Government of Alberta’s Research Capacity Building Program, Alberta Innovates-Environmental Innovation, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Suncor Energy Inc., Canada First Research Excellence Fund, Spartan Controls, and other valued industry and funding partners.

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