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Calgary company's technology, used in NASA Mars mission, could help reduce oilsands emissions


A Calgary company’s cutting edge technology – originally used by NASA in a Mars mission – could be utilized to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oilsands.

Pathways Alliance, a group representing Canada's largest oilsands producers, held a global challenge to find innovations that can help accelerate the use of steam-reducing technologies in oilsands operations.

Calgary company Impossible Sensing Energy's optical technology, called FLOW, was awarded first prize in the competition, beating out 50 other entries and claiming a $45,000 prize.

The technology was first developed by the company's U.S. affiliate for use by the Mars Perseverance Rover to find traces of life on the planet’s surface.

As it turns out, it can not only be used to search for trace amounts of potential carbon-based past life on Mars, but can also detect precise amounts of solvents (hydrocarbons) in oil production stream.

Solvents – such as butane and propane – are naturally occurring in oilsands bitumen and are used as a much less energy intensive alternative to steam.

"The increased use of solvents offers a breakthrough potential to reduce—or eliminate—the need for energy-intensive steam generation in steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations," explained a Thursday news release from Pathways Alliance.

The group says the use of steam reduction technologies in oilsands extraction is one of the most "promising and important" technologies to help reduce emissions.

"Replacing steam in SAGD production with solvents could result in up to a 90% reduction of CO2 emissions," said a release.

"However, to fully advance the process, the industry has been searching for a real-time, accurate method to measure the precise amounts and concentrations of solvents to maximize recycling throughout the full oil recovery process."

Pathways Alliance says cost-effectiveness is an important element in the effort to commercialize the use of solvents in oilsands production.

"The economics of solvent use is dependent on the ability to recycle it. By measuring the solvent in the production stream, it can be determined how much is being returned and can adjust processes to maximize recycling," the group explained.

Two Calgary companies were runners up in the competition, including Burnt Rock Technologies Ltd. and Exergy Solutions Inc., both of which will be awarded a technological-economic assessment valued at $35,000. Top Stories

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