Canadian scientists may have come up with a solution to the perils of the Tar Sands - turn that hazmat sludge, a.k.a. bitumen, into hydrogen, on site.
Hydrogen, even if a bit volatile, is a terrific transport fuel. It's full of energy and, when burned, produces only heat and water (in theory) instead of climate-killing CO2.
Often called the fuel of the future, the gas can be used to generate electricity and power vehicles. It produces water — not carbon — when burned.
Now, engineers in Alberta believe they could have an answer — a method capable of extracting hydrogen from underground resources like oilsands deposits while leaving the carbon emissions it produces below the surface.
"That's been an industrial technology for over 80 [years]," said Grant Strem, CEO of Proton Technologies, the private company commercializing the new process for creating hydrogen.
"What we're doing is very similar, but the big difference is, we're using the ground as a reaction vessel, so our capital cost is a lot lower, and instead of buying natural gas to fuel it, we use the unswept oil in the reservoir as our fuel."What's just as great as transforming the Tar Pits into a hydrogen gas resource is what doesn't have to come out of the ground - the tar and its toxic contents such as pet coke, heavy metals, acids and other carcinogens.
Through lab work and small-scale field testing, the researchers say they found injecting oxygen into the fields raises the temperature and creates a reaction that frees the hydrogen.
"You can envision that the reservoir is simply a hot, bubbling mix of oil, which some fraction of it is now combusting," said professor Ian Gates, from his lab at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering.
"And as it is doing so, it simply keeps producing more and more hydrogen as a consequence of its reactions."
I'd like to see a list of the reactions. I can imagine massive quantities of the additional liberated H2S sitting silently underground just waiting for the right fracture. I've experienced what one blast of this stuff at the right ppm can do. And you don't get a chance for seconds.
Can that be safely vented, John?
The danger, of course, is the explosive potential. But it certainly would put an end to slag heaps -- and CO2 emissions.
It is a promising technology, the sort of development our petro-state government should be generously funding.
A possible hazard in this situation is in this nerve gas being forced to the surface by fracturing and other movements in the ground, some of which could result from factors associated with the process. Otherwise it should stay put. It doesn't lend itself to venting because of its density. I'd guess that the filtering process is likely related to separation that takes place based on relative densities of the various gases involved. When liberated by or from a process it will sit on the surface in depressions and low-lying confined spaces. When exposed to the surface simple diffusion also presents a problem for the immediate vicinity if concentrations are high.
Isn't that a danger common with subterranean CO2 sequestration? You can pump the stuff into fracked reservoirs and such but then it can escape through faulty well plugs, etc. to pool - odourless, colourless and tasteless but in lethal concentrations in low lying areas? Hasn't that already happened somewhere in Alberta?
There have been instances where people and livestock have entered unmonitored areas where H2S has unexpectedly pooled.
Promising technology ...
but if we need to retrofit all our vehicles and related infrastructure to accommodate a new fuel technology, imo, the retrofit will be to electric.
Funny, I saw your headline and thought you'd be posting on this:
"Melius Energy says it has successfully tested a new technology that allows oilsands bitumen to be shipped as a semi-solid product in six-metre-long shipping containers.
The Calgary-based company says it moved 130 barrels of bitumen treated with the BitCrude process from Edmonton to Prince Rupert, B.C., by intermodal rail."
CN has tested floatable bitumen briquettes.
Both technologies use rail - so the 'sunk costs' issue that will keep pipelines in business are not nearly so important as rail can be quickly repurposed.
btw, I am leaning further Orange.
May's "use Cdn oil" strategy is very confused and confusing.
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