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Suncor pioneered oil sands development. Our early investments in technology helped unlock the potential of the oil sands by improving reliability and performance, expanding productivity and driving down costs while reducing our environmental footprint.
Today, new technology and innovative thinking remains fundamental to how we do business. We take a balanced approach to technology development, focusing on both operational technology (step-change improvements in existing processes) and strategic technology (game-changing, disruptive). Our technology development efforts largely focus on four areas (in situ, mining, upgrading and refining, and closure) targeting specific outcome areas: cost management/enhanced profitability, global environment footprint, and regional environmental impact (tailings, water and land).
We invest more than $200 million annually in research and development as part of a robust technology strategy to optimize current asset and develop next generation facilities.
In some cases, we aggressively lead research and development of new technologies. In others, we collaborate through consortiums or third parties. Collaboration is a key enabler to the oil sands industry’s efforts to develop and deploy new technologies.
- Suncor leads or participates in a number of technology studies and projects under Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an alliance of 13 companies representing 90% of oil sands production. COSIA allows participating companies to share technologies and innovations focused on environmental improvements. To date:
- 814 environmental technologies that cost almost $1.3 billion to develop have been shared among COSIA member companies and 68 projects costing more than $200 million
- Suncor is the lead for the Water Technology Development Centre and a participating COSIA member company in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.
- In 2015, Suncor led 51 of the approximately 300 COSIA studies and Joint Industry Projects
Read more about COSIA’s environmental priority areas on its website
Suncor is a co-founder of Evok Innovations, an initiative between the BC Cleantech CEO Alliance, Cenovus Energy and Suncor to accelerate early-stage technologies. Evok brings together British Columbia’s cleantech industry and Alberta’s oil and gas sector to advance new technologies directed at environmental and economic improvements. Evok was launched in early 2016 and is actively seeking opportunities to deploy its funding with early stage companies to develop technologies for commercial adoption by the energy sector.
Read more about Evok Innovations
Pursuing external technology collaborations
Suncor also monitors technologies being developed by external parties to determine if, and when, an investment by us could make sense to advance the technology or adapt them for our business. This involves funding outside companies whose technology ideas align with the strategic needs of our operations or businesses.
- Examples of these investments are LanzaTech, a biofuels firm based in the United States that is advancing a proprietary gas phase fermentation technology to recycle waste gas and greenhouse gas emissions into low carbon fuels and chemicals. Suncor also is invested in Benefuel a technology commercialization company focused on building biodiesel production capacity using cost advantaged feedstock.
In all cases this type of technology development is carefully managed to ensure it provides strategic, economic and environmental benefits to Suncor. This external innovation approach is a key strategy in a world of fast changing products and services.
CIVITASTM is the first commercially available fungus control and plant health product for the golf course industry that has a unique mode of action called Induced Systemic Resistance (ISR). CIVITASTM products impact the plant working to treat diseases and prevent them from taking hold in the first place.
CIVITASTM products are OMRI-listed for use in organic turfgrass management.
This new approach to managing mine tailings, developed in 2010, is focused on a dewatering process that will more rapidly turn fluid tailings ponds into solid landscapes suitable for reclamation.
TROTM is a key tool in our efforts to progressively reclaim tailings ponds, allowing us to reclaim entire mine sites faster – resulting in the more rapid return of natural habitats.
Through our partnership with CO2 Capture Project, we are involved in a collaborative research and development project that could improve the prospects for implementing carbon capture and storage at in situ facilities. This technology produces a concentrated carbon dioxide (CO2) steam that is "capture ready" and is, therefore, expected to avoid or eliminate substantial CO2 emissions at a reduced cost.
Hydrocarbon blanket gas and recovery system
Our hydrocarbon blanket gas and recovery system was installed on the Terra Nova offshore drilling platform in 2012.
Unlike conventional cargo systems which use inert gas to maintain a positive pressure in storage tanks and then vent that gas, along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), into the atmosphere during production, our system "blankets" cargo tanks with pure hydrocarbon gas recovered during production and effectively eliminates the release of VOCs.
Through collaborative technology development, we are currently undertaking field tests on using a condensing solvent to extract bitumen, which could significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The N-Solv pilot at Dover is currently operating with encouraging results.
SAGD LITE involves the addition of slight amounts of soap-like additives – surfactants – in the steam for steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) production.
A pilot project testing this technology was successfully operated at our MacKay River in situ field in 2013. Results were positive and the program is being extended. In addition, three other enhanced surfactants were tested in 2014.
Autonomous haulage systems
In fall 2013, we began engineering tests for Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) at our mine site near Fort McMurray. Using GPS and perception technologies the trucks can operate in a continuous fashion and provide potential efficiencies in maintenance costs, reduced stoppages and fuel consumption, resulting in reduction in GHGs. The technology may also create opportunities for employees to upgrade their technical skills. Testing of AHS equipment is being performed in a tightly controlled mine environment. If we decided to proceed with using AHS on a commercial scale, progressive implementation would begin after 2017.
ESEIEH (pronounced “easy”) stands for enhanced solvent extraction incorporating electromagnetic heating.
This pilot is testing a new method of in situ bitumen recovery using radio frequency heating and solvent to reduce energy, greenhouse gases and water use. Currently, a joint development partnership is doing a technology proof-of-concept project. Field pilot testing for ESEIEH began in 2014.
As part of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), we are leading a project investigating the potential benefits of using direct contact steam generation (DCSG) – a direct combustion process that generates a mixture of steam and CO2 that is then pumped underground. The process has the potential to reduce GHG emissions because a significant portion of the CO2 may be sequestered underground in the steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) reservoir.
Water Technology Development Centre
As part of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), we are working to develop the Water Technology Development Centre, which will advance new water treatment and recycling technologies for in situ oil sands development.
Advancing in situ technology
A major focus for Suncor has been on transforming the in situ production of bitumen, and we are aggressively pursuing a portfolio of technologies that offer the potential to transform the environmental and economic performance of producing oil from the oil sands.
Currently, Suncor is advancing several significant technologies by conducting field trials and advancing the commercial design and implementation:
Electromagnetically Assisted Solvent Extraction (EASE)
Instead of using steam to heat the bitumen, electromagnetically assisted solvent extraction involves using radiofrequency electromagnetic energy to heat the water already in the reservoir and then the reservoir itself. Radiofrequency electromagnetic heating is similar to your microwave at home. Among the suite of electromagnetically assisted solvent technologies we are pursuing, we are a partner in the Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating (ESEIEH) field pilot at our Dover site.
The ESEIEH process, also uses a solvent to further lower bitumen viscosity, enabling production to a horizontal well at economic rates. This potentially game-changing technology may remove the need for water to heat the bitumen plus the solvent leaves asphaltines in the reservoir producing a lighter oil, with lower GHG footprint when refined into gasoline and other products.
Suncor is committed to developing technologies that will allow us to produce crude oil from our oil sands resources at a supply cost and environmental footprint of production through refining and consumption at or below that of conventional oil. This could be achieved in part through the selective decarbonization of our oil sands bitumen.
What does this mean?
Decarbonization will prioritize the removal of complex, heavy hydrocarbon content in our bitumen as close to source as possible versus processing it at final processing facilities such as refineries; the result could be crude oil delivered at a lower cost with a lower environmental impact from wells to wheels.
Rejecting the portions of heavy hydrocarbon closer to source is expected to reduce diluent required for transportation and the downstream processing hydrogen and energy requirements, resulting in lower greenhouse emissions. Rejecting heavy fractions also would result in an oil that is easier to refine, in turn lowering downstream carbon emissions and costs. Decarbonization will focus on generating full value from our crude oils with a reduced environmental footprint instead of operating simply to maximize product recovery.
Decarbonization, through the combination of more simple, lower energy intensity processing, could result in the same or higher revenue from oil sands at lower cost and lower environmental impact.
Advancing surface mining technology
Advancing Land Reclamation
In 2013, Suncor became one of the first companies in the world to complete reconstruction of this type of wetland in co-operation with numerous university researchers and consultants across the continent. Research is showing that the fen is remaining wet through the seasonal weather cycles, water quality is good and plants are growing and spreading naturally.
Read more about the Nikanotee fen and other reclamation activities
Technology in our lubricants business
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