Sunlight drives novel process to clean up water

Sunlight treatment oil sands

Imagine using sunlight to treat industrial water so that it’s clean and safe for aquatic life. It sounds almost too far-fetched to be true. But one Canadian clean tech company has a novel technology called SolarPass that is doing exactly that. To date, SolarPass technology has performed well in the lab and demonstrated good results in an indoor study. Now, the company, H2nanO, is testing the technology’s viability in a large outdoor pilot in collaboration with oil sands producer Canadian Natural to see if it also works well in commercial operations. 

“We’ve validated the technology works at a smaller scale,” says Theo Paradis, Technical Project Lead for Canadian Natural. “Now we need to validate this technology at a larger scale, but so far, it is looking pretty good.”

SolarPass is a passive water treatment system that uses sunlight to power a technology which removes organics from water affected by oil sands processes. Oil sands process water is one of the by-products of facility operations. As in other industries, such as mining, petrochemical and pulp and paper, process water is treated to remove organics before it is returned to the environment. As a passive treatment system, SolarPass requires less power and is less expensive than other treatment systems. It also requires less maintenance, which is an advantage in remote locations like the oil sands.

The chemistry of the technology is relatively straightforward. The treatment process cleans the water by coating nanoparticles, structures that are about 100 times larger than an atom, with titanium dioxide, a common element in the earth’s crust. When natural sunlight is added to the equation, the process destroys naphthenic acids, one of the components in process water. The water becomes non-toxic to aquatic life in a matter of days.

That makes the technology potentially valuable in mine closure scenarios when an oil sands facility is decommissioned at the end of its operating life and process water is disposed of safely. But it also has benefits for ongoing operations, Paradis says. It has the potential to reduce the amount of water used overall and allow more water to be recycled through the facility. That makes for more efficient day-to-day operations and less impact on the environment.

“We’re always looking ahead and planning for when the mine will be closed,” Paradis explains. “One of the things we want to ensure is that any water released from our sites is safe. That’s why innovation and trialing clean technology like SolarPass is important to the oil sands industry.”

Watch Frank Gu of H2nanO talk more about the technology: 


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