Wastewater To Clean Water


Oil sands producers are keenly interested in promising technologies that reduce the impact of bitumen extraction and accelerate environmental performance. So, when a Vancouver, B.C., start-up company approached Canadian Natural with a novel process they said could turn saline water into clean water and valuable chemicals – with zero waste – Canadian Natural wanted to know more.

Mangrove Water Technologies is now collaborating with Canadian Natural to test the viability of its new water treatment process in a small-scale trial. Mangrove’s name is apt; it comes from a tropical tree that’s found in coastal swamps where its novel filtration system removes tidewater salt allowing it to thrive in adverse saline conditions.

If this first technology testing phase goes well, Canadian Natural plans to run a pilot at its Horizon mine in 2021. Horizon is a unique site with an abundance of groundwater that’s too salty to be used in the bitumen extraction process. So, the water has been temporarily removed and stored elsewhere. With Mangrove’s technology, this saline waste water could be converted into clean water that can be immediately reused at the mine.

“It takes our waste water recovered from the ground, which we can’t use, and turns it into products that we can use and immediately integrate into operations on site,” explains Theo Paradis, Technical Project Lead for Canadian Natural.  

“We want to find out how clean we can get salty groundwater with this system,” Paradis says. “The primary focus is to get it clean enough to use in our operations.” 

In addition to water, the process produces hydrochloric acid and caustic acid at strengths that can be used by industry. Caustic acid is regularly used in the bitumen extraction process and hydrochloric acid is used by in situ operators in the region. There are no other end products to deal with and no waste to dispose of. “If successful, this technology will reduce our fresh water use by replacing it with treated saline waste water that can be immediately re-used,” Paradis says.

So how does Mangrove’s system work? “Very simply, the process applies an electric current to a novel electrochemical process that combines aspects of fuel cells with electrodialysis to separate the salts into different compounds,” Paradis explains. That makes the process power-intensive. Part of the demonstration trial that’s underway is to see if it is environmentally, as well as economically and technically feasible. 

What makes the technology exciting however is its broader potential, not only for application in in situ operations, but also to water treatment in other industrial sectors, in Canada and elsewhere in the world. “It could be a potential game changer,” Paradis notes.

COSIA member companies are working hard on other innovative water treatment methods in the oilsands. Find out more

For a technical dive into innovation happening in our Water priority area, see the latest Research Report.

If you’re an innovator with expertise in the area of process water, check out Water Innovation Opportunity

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