How a software company is testing radio waves to produce oil in Alberta | CBC News


As oilsands firms work to satisfy their local weather targets and face an incoming restrict on complete emissions from the federal authorities, there has by no means been as a lot deal with how the trade in northern Alberta can minimize its huge air air pollution. The result’s a wave of technological innovation, together with concepts first conceived many a long time in the past — like microwaving the oil out of the bottom.

That is primarily the know-how developed by Calgary-based software program firm Acceleware, which started producing oil at its demonstration facility within the province final month close to Lloydminster.

Underground, the corporate makes use of radio waves to warmth up oil, which is then pumped to the floor. The know-how stays in improvement and nonetheless faces challenges, however its backers say it has the potential to chop carbon emissions within the sector.

“Because the 40s, individuals have considered the thought of utilizing radio frequency vitality to supply oil,” mentioned Acceleware’s CEO Geoff Clark.

Prior to now, even in latest a long time, researchers had been utilizing radio or TV station tools, which Clark mentioned would not work nicely as a warmth supply.

“In our opinion, the frequency ranges are all incorrect, the effectivity is all incorrect and the capital price of that communications tools is manner too excessive,” he mentioned.

Acceleware injects radiofrequency underground utilizing two heating strains. After the oil is warmed up, it flows down into the producer nicely and is pumped as much as the floor. (CBC Information Graphics)

When oilsands firms drill oil wells, they sometimes warmth up the bitumen utilizing steam, which is produced utilizing pure fuel. If radio wave know-how is profitable, firms may scale back their emissions and water use. There might be operational and capital price financial savings too, Clark mentioned.

“Utilizing electrification to decarbonize the manufacturing of heavy oil is de facto what we’re making an attempt to do,” he mentioned. “The massive problem for us is to show that we’re doing what we are saying the know-how can do.”

Oil is pumped to the floor at this wellhead as a part of Acceleware’s check challenge. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The Acceleware demonstration facility started working in March and commenced producing oil in April, though the corporate would not say how a lot. The corporate is step by step rising the quantity of electrical energy to check how a lot warmth and oil may be produced.

The plan is to function the challenge for six to 12 months, to collect sufficient information. Acceleware would not wish to be an oil firm itself, however as an alternative promote and repair the tools to oilpatch producers.

The know-how might be prepared to be used in trade as quickly as subsequent 12 months, the corporate mentioned, if the demonstration is profitable.

WATCH | How Acceleware received the thought to make use of radio waves within the oilpatch:

The concept got here from a challenge in California, says Geoff Clark, the corporate’s CEO. 1:54

‘It is early days’

Acceleware, which was based in 2004 as a software program firm, has acquired greater than $15 million in authorities grants from Alberta Innovates, Emissions Discount Alberta and Sustainable Improvement Know-how Canada. Business companions embody oilsands heavyweights Suncor and Cenovus.

“It is early days, nevertheless it’s thrilling,” mentioned Bryan Helfenbaum, government director of superior hydrocarbons at Alberta Innovates, a provincial authorities company. 

Acceleware is getting into a “crucial level,” he mentioned, as the subsequent few months will present what sort of oil manufacturing is feasible at what depth, scale, worth and length. 

“There’s loads of elements that can go into the industrial viability and whether or not this can be a answer that might be utilized very broadly, or extra of a distinct segment alternative,” mentioned Helfenbaum. “It is a actually novel strategy that may considerably scale back our emissions, particularly because the Alberta electrical energy grid greens over time.”

WATCH | Heavy oil producers are testing some ways to scale back emissions akin to utilizing solvents, like butane:

Analysis underway to chop emissions within the oilsands

There are various ongoing initiatives to check new strategies and know-how to chop air pollution from the oilsands, says Bryan Helfenbaum, with Alberta Innovates. 1:39

Helfenbaum was a part of an identical challenge a number of years in the past earlier than he joined Alberta Innovates, as Suncor and different trade members explored utilizing radio waves and solvents to create underground warmth. 

The challenge price greater than $100 million, however was by no means totally examined, Helfenbaum mentioned, due to set up and different issues.

Acceleware started to supply oil in April at its demonstration web site close to Lloydminster, Alta. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

A number of attainable options

There are dozens of different analysis initiatives underway geared toward lowering emissions within the oilsands, together with a deal with lowering the quantity of steam required to warmth up underground bitumen. Some firms are experimenting with utilizing solvents and chemical compounds.

If Acceleware is profitable with its know-how, the corporate may department out into industries akin to hydrogen manufacturing or grain drying.

“We expect that we have chosen the toughest utility first and that is the one which’s 500 metres underground,” mentioned Clark.

Oon-Doo Baik, a College of Saskatchewan engineer who research radio frequency heating of biomaterials, mentioned it may be an “energy-efficient course of, however it’s a refined course of.” There must be a superb data of the electromagnetic area, as an illustration, to make use of the know-how effectively and correctly in associated industries, he mentioned, in an emailed response about radio frequency heating.

Most oilsands firms have set a goal to succeed in net-zero by 2050, whereas the federal authorities is anticipated to introduce an emissions limit for the trade later this 12 months.

Oilsands amenities in northern Alberta account for about 11 per cent of Canada’s complete carbon emissions. The federal authorities expects the oilpatch to chop emissions by greater than 40 per cent by 2030.

Acceleware’s $21-million challenge has help from three authorities funding sources and three oil firms. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

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