Finding the game changers

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[mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]R[/mk_dropcaps]EDUCING THE ENVIRONMENTAL impact of energy production is a broad-based goal. Some of the benefits are obvious: lower greenhouse gas emissions, lighter impacts on the land and greater conservation of water. But there are others that may not be so readily apparent. Many point to the positive role improved environmental performance can play in the economics of energy production.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][mk_image src=”” image_width=”800″ image_height=”600″ crop=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” title=”Employees work on a part of Suncor Energy’s ESEIEH technology (above). As Gary Bunio, Suncor’s general manager of technology development notes, ESEIEH reduces water and energy use, GHG emissions and costs related to bitumen extraction.” desc=”COURTESY: SUNCOR” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]Examples of such opportunities are a force in the development of new technology in the oilsands industry, where companies are working in collaboration, bringing greater scale and expertise to the task. Among the many people involved, you’ll find individuals such as Gary Bunio, general manager of technology development at Suncor Energy. He believes that, with the right combination of commitment and passion, it is possible to set new standards for the industry, on both environmental and economic fronts.

Bunio’s aspirations are based on a long career in the energy industry focused on research and technology. He developed a particular interest in environmental technology after working on a refinery reclamation project in Canada’s far north. That initial interest was furthered by his work with individuals such as Gord Lambert, Suncor’s recently retired vice-president of sustainability. “I tip my hat to Gord Lambert,” Bunio says. “[He] brings passion and puts some personal stakes in the ground, as well as supports the organization.”

For Bunio, the core challenge of reducing the environmental impact of oilsands focuses on technologies that reduce the “intensity” of development. The fewer resources projects use — water, land, air and energy — the smaller their overall impact. “Any time we can lower resource intensity, it generates meaningful reductions,” Bunio says.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]While technological innovations have already moved the bar for the oilsands, Bunio says concepts now under development could become game-changers. One of them is known as ESEIEH — or “easy” — for “enhanced solvent extraction incorporating electromagnetic heating.” As names go, it’s a mouthful, but the general concept is less difficult to grasp. ESEIEH is based on the idea of using radio waves to heat bitumen in the earth, then injecting a solvent into a well so the bitumen can be extracted and transported. The result? The elimination of steam for in situ extraction, leading to significant reductions in water and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and overall costs, thus improving business performance.

A consortium including Harris Corp., Suncor, Devon Canada, CNOOC Ltd./Nexen Inc.. and Alberta Innovates completed initial testing of the technology in 2012, with encouraging results. Field-testing is now underway at Suncor’s Dover site in northern Alberta.

There are many more developments taking place, frequently through consortiums such as the Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, a group that represents 90 per cent of oilsands production, and Carbon Management Canada, a network of experts from the academic, industry and not-for-profit sectors.

Not all are focused on extraction, however. Bunio, for example, is intrigued by the potential for autonomous — i.e. driverless — trucks at oilsands production sites, a concept now being tested at Suncor. That technology has the potential to decrease site congestion, Bunio says, leading to lower fuel consumption and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, among other safety and productivity benefits.

It will be years before the technologies Bunio and his industry colleagues are exploring can be fully implemented, of course, but the effort going into the research and development underscores an important point: it is possible to do better.

It also shows that reducing the environmental impact of industrial processes can foster gains in productivity, improving environmental and economic performance at the same time. To make the most of the process, creativity and collaboration is key. “At a higher level, collaboration is about fostering mutually agreeable decisions,” Bunio says. “Collaboration is fundamental to changes we’re making as a society.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]by Dawn Calleja and Niki Wilson[/vc_column_text][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” url=”/resources/energy-exchange-magazine/issue-4/” target=”_self” align=”left” fullwidth=”true” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”15″ animation=”scale-up”]READ MORE STORIES FROM THE SUMMER 2015 ISSUE OF ENERGY EXCHANGE MAGAZINE[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]