Energy Conservation Measures at Syncrude Oil Sand Processing Operations

CIM Vancouver 2006
George Cymerman, Samson Ng, Robert Siy, Jonathan Spence,
Abstract Since 1978, Syncrude Canada Ltd. has been expanding steadily its oil sand mining and processing capacity while reducing unit energy requirements. At the current rate of ~180 M tonne/year oil sand, the originally adopted Karl Clark’s 80°C version of the Hot Water process would require some 53 PJ (53 x 1015 Joule) heat. If this amount of heat were to be derived from burning natural gas it would cost $369 M/y (at $7/GJ). Fortunately, effective recovery of waste heat from the upgrading operations at the Mildred Lake site obviated the need for water heating with natural gas. The oil sand hydrotransport technology, first utilized commercially in the mid-nineties at Syncrude’s North Mine, reduced slurry temperature from ~80°C to ~50°C, cutting the unit heat requirement from 293 MJ/tonne to 183 MJ/t.

However, in the new 100 Mt/year Aurora Mine even a 50°C process temperature would still require 18 PJ of heat energy per year. Only limited quantity of 65°C water could be imported from Mildred Lake site and some waste heat would be available from Gas Turbine Generators. A new, Low Energy Extraction (LEE) process was developed to minimize heat requirements by further reducing process temperatures to 25°C in the slurry pipeline and 35°C in the Primary Separation Vessels (PSV). Unfortunately, when applied to certain ore facies in Aurora, the LEE process yielded disappointing bitumen recoveries, necessitating an increase in slurry temperatures from 25°C to 35°C in the pipeline and from 35°C to 42°C in Primary Separation.

In 2004, an Optimized Low Energy process (OLE) was developed and piloted at Syncrude Research using a 2000 kg/hour pilot plant. In the OLE process, most available heat is applied up-front to produce 45°C pipeline slurry at a density of 1.58 kg/l. Once the pipeline conditioning process is completed, the slurry is flooded with cold (10°C) water, resulting in PSV temperature of 34°C. The overall heat and water requirements are the same, or slightly lower, compared to those of the LEE process – but without the penalty in bitumen recovery. Processing 100 Mt oil sand at 34°C (96 MJ/t), rather than at 50°C (183 MJ/t), will save $61 M/y (@ $7/GJ) and reduce green house gas emissions by ~47 %. The OLE process is currently being implemented at the Syncrude Aurora Mine.
Keywords: oil sand, bitumen recovery, low energy extraction, Hydrotransport
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