Upgrading and refining technologies

Suncor’s upgrading and refining operations provide an important link between our Canadian resource base and the energy market.
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    We process crude into high-quality refined products consumers require. We continue to look for opportunities to minimize the environmental impact that results from the extraction and production of oil, and manufacturing and distributing of fuels.

    Mild Thermal Cracker Technology

    Suncor uses two upgrading processes:

    • coking/thermal cracking which heats bitumen to the point where it cracks into a vapour stream and a byproduct called coke
    • hydrotreating where hydrogen is added to remove sulphur and blended for shipments to refineries

    Both processes require significant energy. We are advancing research in low temperature thermal vis breaking to examine the potential for bitumen to be upgraded to a transportable and marketable product in the field. This would avoid the need for a large centralized upgrader, decreasing the amount of diluent required to market the product.

    Lower operating temperatures have the potential to decrease emissions at production and refining.

    We are also evaluating the integration of a de-asphalting step as a form of decarbonization to reject asphaltenes to make an even lighter and more valuable crude product for the market. This opportunity would be the refining version of our Paraffinic Froth Treatment process used at our Fort Hills mine.

    Wastewater treatment facility at Commerce City

    Many industrial processes use water, from wood and metal manufacturing to paper and food production – petroleum refining is no different. Our Commerce City refinery uses both city water and collected groundwater for steam production and cooling, as well as to wash out the natural contaminants in crude oil, like salts and minerals, to prevent corrosion in our processing units.

    Much of this water is recycled for reuse at our facility, and the remaining portion is treated and discharged to a local waterway, Sand Creek, under a permit issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    In 2017, the Commerce City refinery operationalized a $65 million upgrade to our existing wastewater treatment facility, leveraging a technology called membrane ultrafiltration to treat and filter the water. The facility is one of the first in North America to use this technology in treating refinery wastewater streams.

    “Membrane ultrafiltration removes particles from wastewater down to approximately 0.08 microns in size,” explains April Maestas, director of engineering, Downstream, at Suncor. “That’s about 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.”

    Ongoing and future construction phases of the wastewater treatment facility will enable us to strive to continuously improve our environmental performance related to wastewater treatment and discharge.