patents

Innovation puts Syncrude in the oil sands spotlight

Nov 13, 2018

In 2014, the Alberta Science and Technology Leadership (ASTech) Foundation recognized Syncrude’s Research & Development (R&D) Team with a Special Award for their collective 50-year contribution to the advancement of the science behind Canada’s oil sands. That commitment to innovation began in 1964 and continues to this day.

Syncrude operates large oil sand mines, utilities plants, a bitumen extraction plant and upgrading facility in Northern Alberta that processes bitumen and produces value-added light, sweet crude oil for domestic consumption and export.

Innovation is a core company value that has allowed Syncrude to evolve into an industry leader when it comes to developing the oil sands and addressing environmental needs including reclaiming mine sites.

“The industry was in its infancy in 1964 and solutions to unlocking the mysteries of the oil sands would need to be invented, tested and implemented because they simply didn’t exist,” says Mal Carroll, General Manager, Research and Development. “We remain committed to advancing the industry through research and development while reducing our environmental footprint and returning the land we’ve mined back to nature.”

Syncrude operates a dedicated oil sands Research and Development facility, and is among the top 100 corporate R&D spenders in Canada. We spend about $65 million annually on research and development, more than half of which is invested in environmental initiatives.

Syncrude has invested more than $1.5 billion over the past 50 years on its own research and in collaboration with North American universities and research organizations to advance the oil sands industry and its leading edge technologies. This work has led to incremental but significant change in processes and technology, and has also produced major industry advancements. 

Some of Syncrude’s innovations include:

  • Hydrotransport technology, an energy efficient method of mixing oil sand with water close to the mine face so it can be sent via pipeline to the processing plant.
  • Lower Energy Extraction, which uses less energy and resources than traditional hot water bitumen extraction methods.
  • Bitumen froth pipelining technology, which enabled the development of oil sands mines that are remote from an upgrading facility.
  • Inclined Plate Settlers for Froth Treatment to remove water and solids from diluted bitumen froth.
  • Tailings management technologies that enable the use of treated tailings materials in land reclamation.
  • Establishing the Syncrude Analytical Methods. These are the accepted standard for industry, government and universities to measure and analyze the components and properties of oil sand, as well as the related substances formed during processing.

From corrosion and erosion abatement, and extending the life of tires used for heavy haulers, to hydrotransport and innovative land reclamation approaches, Syncrude continues to make steady and impactful progress for responsible development of the oil sands. 

These investments into R&D have generated an estimated $33 billion of value for Syncrude and include more than 200 patents awarded since 1966. The innovations to responsibly mine, extract and upgrade bitumen would not exist to the extent they do today without the work of the Syncrude’s Research and Development team. Syncrude’s commitment to innovation and investment in research and development will ensure these advancements continue for the life of its operation and the industry as a whole.