Suncor Named Energy Excellence Awards Champion For Water Technology Development Centre

Suncor's Water Technology Development Centre

The Daily Oil Bulletin’s first annual Energy Excellence Awards were held in Calgary on Thursday, May 2. Awards were handed out in 12 categories under the banners of Operational and Project Excellence, Innovation and Research Excellence, and Exporting Excellence.

Over the next two weeks we will be profiling the champions in each of the 12 subcategories. Today’s instalment, sponsored by industry partner Fluor, profiles the champion in the category Operational Excellence: Oilsands.

Click here to read about all of the champions and finalists. 

Ten years in the making, Suncor’s Water Technology Development Centre (WTDC) will be fully operational in Q2 2019, allowing its partners to test new water technologies to improve the sustainability performance of thermal in situ oilsands projects.

The $143-million “live fluid” test facility is located at Suncor’s Firebag SAGD project. Established collaboratively through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) by Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources, CNOOC, Devon Canada and Husky Energy, the WTDC responds to the industry challenge of developing technologies past the lab or bench scale to the pilot or near-commercial scale.

“The WTDC allows the partner companies to test more technologies than each could on their own, while sharing the risks and costs of development,” says Brad Sobey, manager operations technology development, Suncor.

The WTDC is also expected to speed the development and implementation of new water treatment technologies, shortening the current eight-year timeframe required to field test technologies, while improving returns on investment for member companies.

Situating the WTDC onsite at Firebag ensures real-world conditions in working with process fluids that have the same physical-chemical characteristics, elevated temperatures and pressures typical of a commercial SAGD in situ operations. This is expected to yield more accurate results in evaluating new technologies.

The scope for the work proposed for the WTDC is water technology development that reduces environmental impacts, capital and operating costs, and increases reliability.

“Essentially, it’s about making thermal in situ oilsands projects more competitive in a low oil-price and lower-emissions intensity environment,” Sobey says.

Charting the history of the project, Sobey says that the five partners were ready to start construction in 2014 but, when oil prices tumbled, those plans were put on hold.

“We felt there was an opportunity to reduce our costs in building the facility by letting the market conditions cool down. That turned out to be a very good decision, even though it pushed us out by about a year-and-a-half,” he says.

The delay in construction saved the partners $20 million from the original budget.

Innovative governance and sharing agreements support the work at the test centre. Member companies collectively decide which technologies get tested, when and how they are tested, and set the standards for evaluating the progress of technology development.

“Suncor is the operator, but each company has its representative and the entire intent is to work together to determine which technologies we each want to test. It goes through a vote. It’s a democratic process. It’s been working extremely well so far,” Sobey says.

Member companies have access to all the WTDC test information, learnings and data in real time. Each company’s staff will have opportunities to build and enhance their skills with various technologies by participating in the WTDC.

Ongoing collaboration with academia is expected to generate a steady feedstock of technologies from which to select and run through the WTDC for determining commercial viability.

“We do a lot of work with universities and colleges and research companies so, at the end of the day, you’ll see programs developed with those institutions as well as with SAIT and NAIT. We’re working collaboratively with them to help de-risk a lot the technologies upfront and to get a much better idea of which ones are most likely to succeed,” Sobey says.

Successful technologies can be implemented by the five partners. Sobey says these technologies will also be shared with COSIA members, so the potential impact of any advances as a result of WTDC work will be industry-wide.

A benchmark goal for the WTDC is to reduce makeup water usage by 30 to 40 per cent and cut disposal water by a half, or more.

The roster of pilot opportunities includes more effect emulsion separation, oil removal, water treatment, steam generation, water waste management, chemical usage, instrument and analyzers, advanced process controls, and other facets of in situ operations.

“We divided the potential technology tests into ‘incremental technologies’ and ‘game-changing technologies.’ In years one, three and five, we will focus on incremental technologies. Starting in the second year and the fourth year, we’ll look at new technologies,” Sobey says.

The initial incremental technology tests will target existing assets to cut water consumption by five or 10 per cent and to reduce GHG emissions. Later, more aspirational testing is expected to lead to changes in the design of central facilities, how SAGD facilities are built and how they operate.

The facility is slated to run for a minimum of five years, with an option to extend operations beyond that timeframe.

Industry Partner:

Since 1949, Fluor Canada has been involved in the engineering, procurement and construction of a wide range of energy related projects that are spread across the Canadian landscape. Throughout its 70-year history in Canada, Fluor has provided local, regional and international clients with full-service capabilities, which include economic evaluations, conceptual engineering, feasibility studies, program management, detailed engineering, procurement, transportation and logistics, modularization, fabrication, direct-hire construction, construction management, commissioning, start-up, operations and maintenance. 

Click here to read about all of the champions and finalists.

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