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Heartland 101 July 2016: High Tech in the Heartland

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Inside a farm-style quonset just north of Fort Saskatchewan sits millions of dollars worth of instruments, tubes, pipes, and steel. It’s all assembled into Field Upgrading’s test facility.

This is just one of the technology-leading projects that is putting Alberta’s Industrial Heartland on the innovation map. Between carbon capture and storage, offgas processing, energy mapping, and others, companies in the Heartland are exploring and adopting greener projects in our energy sector.

From Technology to Test Plant

“We were on the lookout for a cheaper and cleaner way to do this job,” explains Neil Camarta, President and CEO of Field Upgrading, who is testing technology that produces low sulphur fuel from Alberta’s bitumen. The technology started as an idea, and after getting a passing grade in a laboratory setting, it was scaled up to build their 10 barrel per day upgrading pilot plant.

The process itself is a relatively simple one. Combine high sulphur feedstock such as bitumen or heavy oil with molten sodium and a small amount of hydrogen. Within the reaction process, sodium seeks out the sulphur like a five year old on a candy treasure hunt. The mixture is then separated to yield low sulphur fuel, heavy metals, and waste sulphur. The sodium is recycled back into the process.

Local Product with Global Demand

Low sulphur fuel could be the answer to a pollution problem among the global shipping industry. Currently, the shipping industry burns about 4 million barrels per day of bottom-of-the-barrel quality fuel. Based on sulphur emissions, the world’s 15 largest ships actually generate more pollution than that of every single passenger vehicle on the planet combined. But the bottom-of-the-barrel fuel is much cheaper than its lower sulphur alternatives.

Several countries, including Canada, are trending toward stricter sulphur regulations in fuel. Therefore, shipping companies will be forced to find sources of lower sulphur fuel. For Field Upgrading, this could open the valve to an enormous global demand for their low sulphur marine fuel.

Up Next: Produce 250 Times More Product

The next step for Field Upgrading is a 2,500 barrel per day demonstration facility. “Oil sands is a high tech business,” says Camarta. And with that, it takes testing the technology in stages. Going from 10 barrels to 2,500 barrels per day allows Field Upgrading to make any necessary modifications.

For more information about Field Upgrading, visit www.fieldupgrading.com. For more information about Life in the Heartland, visit lifeintheheartland.com, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or email info@lifeintheheartland.com