Finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our operations – Suncor’s 2013 Report on Sustainability

GHG emissions : the path forward – Suncor’s 2013 Report on Sustainability

Suncor’s efforts to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our operations – 2013 Report on Sustainability

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one of the biggest challenges faced by the energy industry. Find out what Suncor is doing to monitor and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the 2013 Report on Sustainability

View the latest Report on Sustainability

Greenhouse gas emissions: The path forward

Canada's oil sands industry remains under intense scrutiny over its mounting contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

While the industry currently accounts for about 6.5% of all Canadian GHG emissions, it is also the single fastest growing source of absolute emissions due to expanding production. It's a huge challenge — not just for companies like Suncor, but also for the sustainability of a Canadian economy so closely linked to the production, consumption and export of non-renewable energy products.

We've long believed that our industry's greatest single opportunity for reducing GHG emissions intensity, and ultimately bending the curve on absolute emissions growth, lies in harnessing private sector innovation and technological expertise. But what are the best avenues for doing so and how soon are we likely to see tangible progress?

Those were among the key questions addressed by the 2012 report, A Greenhouse Gas Reduction Roadmap for Oil Sands, prepared for the Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) by Suncor Energy and Jacobs Consultancy. The primary objective of the study was to identify, assess and quantify energy efficiency and GHG reduction opportunities for commercial oil sands operations and determine their potential impact on the GHG intensity of fuels refined from oil sands derived bitumen.

The study used Suncor's in situ, mining, extraction and upgrading facilities as a basis for evaluation. Energy efficiency and GHG reduction opportunities included operational improvements, capital investment projects, and technology advancement opportunities.

Read more about oil sands operations

The study provides a high-level evaluation of GHG reduction opportunities for crude oil production from oil sands, including a preliminary evaluation of the economics and a qualitative assessment of the risks of their implementation. While some of the opportunities evaluated had sufficient detail to advance them toward implementation, many of the opportunities identified have significant risks and potentially longer time frames before they might be proven to be commercially viable.

The information in the Reduction Roadmap report provides a foundation and direction for future work both at Suncor and other operators' facilities to improve the energy intensity of oil sands operations and reduce GHG emissions.

Read the Reduction Roadmap report (PDF, 143 pp., 2,069 KB)

How were GHG impacts evaluated?

In the Reduction Roadmap report, improvement ideas were screened and the leading ones evaluated using a combination of plant operating data and simulation models. A life cycle analysis (LCA) was conducted to demonstrate how the identified energy improvements affect the GHG emissions on a 'well to wheels' (WTW) basis for fuels derived from oil sands-based crude oils.

LCA is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product's life — in the case of transportation fuels, it begins with the production of the crude oil and progresses to transport to the refinery, refining of the crude oil, delivery of refined products to the distribution point and, finally, to consumption of the fuel in vehicles.

LCA tells us that approximately 75% to 80% of GHG emissions occur when consumers use the fuel to run their vehicles — the tank to wheels (TTW) part of the equation. These emissions are the same, regardless of the crude used to process the fuels.

Life cycle emissions from transportaion fuel

The remaining 20% to 25% of the GHG emissions associated with a barrel of refined product come from its well to tank (WTT) processing. These emissions vary between types of crude — and even between facilities — and are a function of the energy amount and type required to extract and refine the fuel.

How heat and power are produced is the key driver of emissions, but factors like reservoir geology, water and air treatment requirements and flaring of associated natural gas also play a role. The specific pathway chosen to extract, upgrade and refine crude oil derived from bitumen — as well as the required slate of refined products — all significantly affect the life cycle emissions of the end product.

The WTT emissions of oil sands crude oils sit on a continuum with other crudes. The life cycle emissions of oil sands derived refined products compare with those of many new international sources of heavy crudes. On average, on a WTW basis, the LCA of oil sands crudes ranges between 4 and 18% higher than the average crude oil processed in North America.

Energy Intensity

* Beginning in 2009, includes consolidated post-merger data.

(1) Oil Sands data in 2008 included Firebag operations. Since 2009 Firebag has been included in In Situ business unit.

(2) Previously called Natural Gas.

(3) In Situ data includes Firebag and MacKay River operations.

Companies like Suncor clearly have an opportunity to directly impact the quarter of GHG emissions that occur at the production and processing phases. But how best to do so? The Reduction Roadmap report suggests a possible path forward.

What did we learn?

The integration advantage

The report identified the WTT GHG Life Cycle advantage of integration at Suncor's sites. Integration in this context is all about the use of a waste heat stream of one facility/process as the energy input for another.

Cogeneration of electricity and steam, as well as waste heat recovery for bitumen extraction, are commonly used in oil sands operations. Cogeneration, which is applicable to in situ, upgrading, and stand-alone extraction facilities, can reduce the LCA well to tank GHG intensity by up to 5%.

Read more about electricity and the oil sands at OSQAR

Maximizing integration of extraction facilities with low-grade waste heat, which requires co-location of extraction plant with an upgrader or refinery, can reduce GHG emissions of an extraction facility by 30% to 50%. Most existing oil sands facilities have some degree of heat integration, and Suncor's extraction plants make substantial use of heat integration with its adjacent bitumen upgraders.

Energy efficiency

The report found that implementation of economically viable operational and capital projects can improve energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions from existing oil sands operations relative to their current baseline WTT intensity. The Reduction Roadmap report identified our in situ operations as the area with the greatest leverage for energy efficiency opportunities. The estimated reduction in GHG emissions, by facility, is as follows:

  In situ Mining and extraction Upgrading Timing - Uncertainty
Operational Improvements 3% 2% 2% Near term (1-3 years) Low risk
Capital Improvements 9% 5% 6% Mid-term (3-5 years) Moderate risk

 

Technology

Suncor and Jacobs Consultancy evaluated the potential impact of new technologies for reducing GHG emissions over 10 or more years for each of in situ, mining and extraction, and upgrading.

'Opportunity radars' were developed for each area that identified the potential magnitude of GHG reductions, risk and cost, as well as probable timing of each opportunity. In each area, the most promising technologies were identified.

The report concludes that longer term technology developments for improving energy efficiency offer significant potential to close the GHG intensity gap between crude oils derived from bitumen and heavy crude oils produced outside of Alberta. Potential GHG intensity reductions, by facility, are as follows:

  In situ Mining and extraction Upgrading Timing - Uncertainty
New technologies 20% 30% 10% Near term (10+ years) Low risk

 

Conclusions

There are no short-term solutions that deliver large-scale GHG emission reductions. There are no single solutions that apply to all facilities — particularly in situ where reservoir geology drives the effectiveness of technology implementation. Industry needs to continue to build a portfolio of medium-term to longer term technologies and energy efficiency innovations.

It will take time and significant capital investment to get many of the biggest impact technologies to the point of being commercially viable. However, there is a wide range of possible technologies and innovations that show promise and have the potential to reduce oil sands WTT GHG Life Cycle emissions to within the range of competing oil supplies.

What is Suncor's GHG technology strategy?

Suncor's corporate-wide technology and innovation strategy is focused in three key areas:

  • continuous improvement — applying known techniques to existing issues
  • operations technology — applying new technologies to existing assets and issues
  • growth technology — applying new technologies in new assets, processes and businesses

Read more about technology development

Suncor's strategy for achieving GHG reductions in our oil sands business is consistent with these corporate-wide technology and innovation objectives. Our primary focus for oil sands has been in these areas:

  • energy efficiency
  • alternative bitumen extraction technologies and processes
  • carbon capture and storage

Managing energy efficiency

As one of its four beyond compliance environmental performance goals, Suncor has set a company-wide target of improving energy efficiency by 10% by 2015, based on a 2007 baseline. Because our oil sands and in situ operations consume 64% of Suncor's total energy use, the biggest potential savings are to be found in our mining, in situ and upgrading facilities.

Read more about our performance goals

Energy Use

* Beginning in 2009, includes consolidated post-merger data.

(1) Oil Sands data in 2008 included Firebag operations. Since 2009 Firebag has been included in In Situ business unit.

(2) Previously called Natural Gas

(3) In Situ data includes Firebag and MacKay River operations.

(4) Suncor-wide total energy is inclusive of energy from the pipeline from Oil Sands to the Edmonton Refinery, which are not included in individual business unit values. The energy total for this source for 2012 was approximately 282,000 GJ.

There is also another clear motivator. "Generally speaking, for every one per cent of energy use reductions, you get one per cent in GHG reductions," says Mark Bohm, Suncor's corporate energy efficiency manager. "So it's a big lever for GHG management."

Suncor is currently implementing an Energy Management System (EMS) in all of our major operated facilities, a process that is to be completed by the end of 2014. EMS improves the measurement, control and governance of energy usage, and typically results in 2% to 3% improvement in energy/GHG intensity through better operational control, and the identification of an additional 5% to 10% of improvement opportunities through capital investments. EMS is the primary tool for Suncor to drive continuous improvement in energy efficiency in all of its operated facilities.

Suncor has implemented cogeneration of steam and power at all of our oil sands facilities. This has resulted in significant GHG savings, and the net export of power to the Alberta grid. Cogeneration typically reduces facility emissions by 5% or more when compared to stand-alone steam production and natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power production.

Suncor recently completed a feasibility study to evaluate the potential for using low-grade waste heat from existing processes to help power in situ facilities. This technology could produce emissions-free electricity, and potentially provide up to 10% of the electricity needs of a typical in situ facility.

Alternative bitumen extraction technologies and processes

Suncor is taking a leading role in developing alternative bitumen extraction technologies that could dramatically reduce the energy and GHG intensity of oil sands production. These activities include:

  • N-Solv™ technology pilot plant — starting in 2013, a 500 barrel per day (bpd) pilot plant at Suncor's Dover lease will field test N-Solv™. N-Solv™ is an in situ extraction technology that uses propane or butane to produce a condensed solvent that provides the heat required for bitumen recovery in the way steam currently does. Wells using the N-Solv™ technology would require zero water use, less land space and are expected to produce at a rate of up to 1.5 times the rate of existing steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) processes. And because the N-Solv™ process is expected to use 85% less energy, the impact on GHG emissions could be significant. Read more about N-Solv™
  • Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating (ESEIEH) — Suncor is part of a consortium that, in 2012, conducted initial proof of concept testing of a unique extraction method that has the potential to improve GHG emission performance at both oil sands mining and in situ operations.

    The ESEIEH process replaces the need for water by applying patent-pending antenna technology developed by the Harris Corporation to initially heat the oil sands electrically with radio waves. A propane or butane solvent is then injected to dilute and mobilize the bitumen with minimal energy requirements.

    As a result, the ESEIEH process could improve energy efficiency and lower GHG emissions. The initial test phasing took place at Suncor's Steepbank mine facility. While preliminary results were encouraging, more work must be done to determine commercial viability. Pending regulatory approval, a field project of the technology is planned for 2014, this time at the Dover lease, home to Suncor's original SAGD site.

Both the N-Solv™ and ESEIEH technologies are likely many years from potential commercial application. But there are smaller scale innovations in play that could provide significant, and more immediate, benefits. For example, Suncor is currently piloting tests at its in situ operations of a 'soap-like' additive that, when combined in small volumes in steam, is expected to significantly lower our steam/oil ratio (SOR), allowing more oil production with less steam. The program could deliver more efficient oil recovery with less energy and water use.

Carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology has been identified as a long-term tool for achieving large-scale reductions in GHG emissions. But current CCS technologies are too expensive (an estimated $75 to $200 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) avoided) to be economically viable. For that reason, Suncor has focused on projects that could improve the prospects for implementing CCS at our in situ facilities. Read more about CCS technology.

These activities include:

  • Oxyfuel technology demonstration project — Suncor and a number of partners are working to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of oxy-fuel combustion for the capture of CO2 from in situ once-through steam generators (OTSGs). A pilot project, at Cenovus' Christina Lake site, is going ahead in 2013, with results expected by year's end or early 2014.

    The use of oxyfuel combustion in OTSG boilers is expected to have several potential advantages over existing post-combustion CO2 capture technologies, including reduced costs and energy needs and simpler operations. The technology is expected to avoid and eliminate much of the CO2 emissions from in situ bitumen production.

    This would make oil sands derived crudes very competitive on an LCA basis to conventional crudes. Read more about the oxyfuel technology demonstration project

  • Inventys Thermal Technologies — VeloxoTherm™ gas separation process — is a post-combustion capture and separation technology, developed by Inventys. It utilizes a patented process design and adsorbent architecture, which greatly reduces CO2 separation cost. The VeloxoTherm™ process is thought to be eventually capable of separating CO2 from flue gases at one-third of the cost of the leading separation technology for post-combustion capture of CO2 from industrial flue gas streams. Suncor provided early-stage funding for Inventys to develop this technology for application to oil sands emissions sources.

Next steps: collaboration, innovation and investment

Making step-changes in advancing new GHG management technologies cannot be achieved by one company — or even one industry — alone. It will require collaboration, innovation and strategic capital investment across many sectors of the economy. Here are some of the organizations Suncor continues to work with on this shared journey:

One of the most recent collaborations is the Low Carbon Innovation Alliance (LCIA), which is a kind of 'coalition of the willing' when it comes to accelerating innovation leading to reduced carbon emissions. The LCIA started as a conversation amongst very senior representatives from COSIA, the CMC, the CCEMC as well as:

It's early days yet, but the overriding principle of the LCIA is that, instead of having multiple, parallel and (in some cases) competing processes, it would make sense to have a single, transparent 'innovation funnel' that all participating organizations could access. The goal is to streamline and better co-ordinate the evaluation and advancement of promising GHG technologies with the common goal of moving projects from conception to implementation as quickly and effectively as possible.