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Using radio waves to heat oil sands

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A consortium of Nexen Inc, Suncor Energy, Laricina Energy and Harris Corporation have managed to find a way to heat up oil sands using electromagnetic heating.

The test was made at Suncor's Steepbank mine facility north of Fort McMurray, Canada, with a $33m program 50 per cent supported by the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC).

The test was approved by the Canadian Energy Resources Conservation Board.

The idea is that the oil sands can be heated by passing radio waves through them. It is similar to the way that microwaves heat food, but it uses radio waves from the lower part of the spectrum (normally used for AM radio), because microwaves do not usually travel far enough into the reservour.

After heating the oil sands with radio waves, an oil solvent is injected to dilute the bitumen (heavy oil) further.

Altogether, the process means that less energy and water is required to extract oil sands.

The project is called " Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating" (ESEIEH).

"ESEIEH is a key project for the CCEMC and Alberta, and offers the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during oil sands production," says Eric Newell, Chair of the CCEMC.

"The ESEIEH team is making excellent progress and we look forward to the upcoming pilot project."

ESEIEH was established in 2009 to meet the challenge put forward by the CCEMC to expand climate change knowledge, develop new 'clean' technologies and explore practical ways of implementing them.

Because the oil is heated directly, the system requires less heat than Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), which normally requires heat at 200 to 250 degrees in order that there is enough heat finding its way to the oil.

Associated Companies
» Harris Inc
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