Report on Sustainability 2019

Upgrading and refining technologies

Suncor’s upgrading and refining operations provide an important link between our Canadian resource base and the energy market.

Suncor processes crude oil 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 distribution of fuels.

Partial upgrading technology

Suncor currently 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.

Reducing the temperature and pressure in our processes could decrease emissions at production and refining.

We are advancing technology development in low-temperature thermal cracking to examine the potential for bitumen to be partially upgraded to a transportable and marketable product. This would increase value by decreasing the amount of diluent required to transport this new bitumen product, and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity from extraction to the end-user. This would also avoid the need for a complex upgrader.

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 a variation of the paraffinic froth treatment process used at our Fort Hills site, in which a more valuable crude oil is made for refining, with reduced GHG intensity.

Wastewater treatment facility at Commerce City

Many industrial processes use water and 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 implemented 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 on wastewater treatment and discharge.

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