Sept/Oct 2007

Major SO2 reductions underway at Syncrude

By C. Hersey

In a region known for behemoth oil sands projects, construction crews are literally building the foundation of improved environmental performance 35 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. Syncrude is pouring concrete foundations as part of its Syncrude Emissions Reduction Project estimated to cost $772 million.

Despite the hefty price tag, Syncrude’s general manager of regulatory and external affairs, Don Thompson, believes it’s an important investment. “This endeavor isn’t about increasing production. Its sole purpose is to make a further reduction in our emissions,” he said. It was taken as a proactive step ahead of regulatory requirement and involved a detailed review to find the appropriate opportunity and technology.

In a nutshell, the Syncrude Emissions Reduction Project (SERP) will retrofit sulphur reduction technology (flue gas desulphurization) on their two original cokers. It will retrofit cokers 8-1 and 8-2 with flue gas scrubbing technology, and along with the flue gas desulphurization unit already attached to its newest coker (coker 8-3), the company expects to reduce SO2 emissions by 60 per cent.

The process involves “dry lime” scrubbing technology, which uses a lime solution inside the spray dryer to absorb sulphur. This in turn results in the production of gypsum, which is withdrawn from the dryer. The leftover scrubbed flue gas flows into a bag house, which uses fabric filters (much like massive vacuum bags), and any remaining gypsum and particulate matter is trapped.

Particulate emissions should also be reduced by about 50 per cent as a result of the use of those fabric filters. When all’s said and done, Syncrude’s currently approved SO2 emission level of 245 tonnes per day will drop to 100 tonnes per day. This reduction is also being achieved at the same time that Syncrude has increased its production by more than 40 per cent.

Because SERP involves a retrofit, the project is currently being constructed within an operating facility. As a result, “the construction team is using innovative solutions to work within that space while also meeting our commitment to safety and reliability,” said Thompson.

It’s an example of innovation. Consider the use of the world’s largest tower crane - the first of its kind in Canada and only twice before in North America has a tower crane of this size and magnitude ever been used.

After studying the complexity of the job and the very minimal space they had to work with, Syncrude concluded that a tower crane was the best option for the majority of their lifts, and so the Kroll 10,000 was brought in. Only 15 of these massive machines were ever built, mostly for the nuclear power industry, but the constructability team found one available in Denmark, and Syncrude purchased it to help with the construction of the project. Tower cranes such as this are normally used to construct skyscrapers in areas where there is very limited working space.

This type operates very much like a crane tower, in that it hoists and sets loads, but in the Kroll 10,000’s case, the operator sits 320 feet above the ground. The foundation of the tower itself will be octagonal in shape, and measure about 50 feet wide. While most lifts for the Emission Reduction Project will be in the 90 to 100 ton range, the Kroll 10,000 will stick out like a sore thumb - a very innovative and capable sore thumb.

At a radius of 330 feet, the Kroll has a lifting capacity of 104 tons and a hook height of 300 feet. At a 150-foot radius, the lifting capacity more than doubles, to 240 tons. You can bet that with such heavy-duty machinery involved, Kroll technicians will properly train all selected crane operators. With its outstanding lifting capacity, along with the various radii, the tower crane will allow for more pre-assembly to be done off site, thereby avoiding an overcrowded working environment.

Ernie Sheaves, a crane and rigging specialist and also a member of the constructability team who recommended the Kroll 10,000, said that Syncrude “will be able to perform more than 90 per cent of their heavy lifts for the project with this tower crane without having to relocate.” He also notes that about two-thirds of the Emission Reduction Project construction site would have been covered by crane mats just to get things up and running.

“We’re eliminating the need to build massive crane pads each time we want to move a crawler crane.” The less time it takes to start reducing emissions, the better. Construction for the Kroll 10,000 is expected to be complete by the middle of September 2007 and ready for use by October.

Site preparation for SERP began in 2006, and the civil construction phase of excavation, pilings, and foundation work is scheduled for completion in mid-2007. It will come on line in stages starting in 2009 up until 2011, to allow appropriate tie-ins to the operating cokers.

“Syncrude started its leading-edge environmental work since its beginning,” said Thompson. “Our land reclamation and other environmental scientists were the first employees on our site more than 30 years ago.”

So, the oil sands pioneer sees this project as a natural and obvious step forward for their organization, which has always been committed to its environmental responsibilities.

“We feel this project will help reinforce Syncrude’s position as a leader in the responsible development of the oil sands,” Thompson stated.

When it comes to learning more about the environment, their impact, and finding ways to mitigate that impact, Syncrude has long been dedicated to the cause. I suppose, when it comes to the environment, more really is less.

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