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A promising way to reduce the cost of producing oil from oil sands

By Gerald Parkinson |

Roughly 80% of the heavy oil in Alberta’s oil sands is too deep for open-pit mining, the most common production method at present. Consequently, this oil will have to be recovered by in situ methods, such as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), whereby steam is injected underground to liberate the bitumen, which is pumped out through a producer well. Each barrel of oil produced requires 3–4 bbl of water, and while most of the water is separated from the oil and recycled, its recovery is energy-intensive (for more details on oil sands processing, see CE, February 2009, pp. 19–22). GE Power & Water (Trevose, Penn.; www.ge.com/energy) and FilterBoxx Water & Environmental Corp. (Calgary, Alta; www.filterboxx.com) believe they can reduce the energy cost by 30–40%. The two companies have signed an agreement to develop a new water-cleanup process that combines GE’s evaporation and reverse-osmosis (RO) membrane technologies with FilterBoxx’s high-temperature ceramic membrane technology. Twelve of GE’s mechanical vapor-compression produced water evaporators are already installed at five locations in Alberta, says William Heins, general manager of thermal products for GE’s Water Process…
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