Canadian plans to transport oil as solid briquettes move forward

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A Canada National Railway Co. train in Alberta.
Enlarge / A Canada Nationwide Railway Co. prepare in Alberta.

CN

The Canada Nationwide Railway Firm (CN) has spent years growing a product known as CanaPux, by which thick bitumen crude oil from Canada’s oil sands is blended with a polymer to turn out to be a strong puck that may be transported with little worry of spills or fires. When the pucks attain their vacation spot, the polymer is separated from the oil and could be despatched again to the processing plant for reuse.

Now, CN Improvements, the department of CN that developed CanaPux, has discovered two partnering teams which can be eager about constructing manufacturing vegetation to develop the pucks. One is a Chinese language group looking for to export bitumen (the identify for the low-grade heavy oil present in Canadian oil sands) to China, the opposite is a Canadian group desirous to export the stuff to South Korea and India, amongst different nations. The Canadian group specifically has been specializing in exporting bitumen for non-combustion functions: heavy oil like bitumen is usually used to pave and waterproof roofs, in accordance with James Auld, the venture lead for CanaPux at CN.

Auld advised Ars on Monday 10,000 barrel-a-day CanaPux manufacturing plant would value about CAN$50 million (US$37.6 million) to construct, not together with a facility on the different finish of the transportation chain that may de-polymerize the briquettes of oil. The 2 teams trying to construct CanaPux vegetation are eyeing vegetation that might course of between 10,000 and 50,000 barrels per day.

Why would an organization spend cash to make a puck?

The financial case for CanaPux is not apparent. However Auld stated that bitumen’s distinctive properties make the case extra compelling. First, to ship bitumen via a pipeline, a diluent to make the bitumen stream extra simply have to be added, and that diluent is usually 30 p.c or extra of the quantity touring via the pipeline. Meaning much less quantity for transporting the oil producer’s product. As an alternative, Auld says that CanaPux could be manufactured with solely 10 p.c of every puck being polymer additive.

Nonetheless, Auld pressured that CanaPux aren’t looking for to finish with oil transferring via pipelines. In spite of everything, CN is a railway firm, and transferring bitumen by prepare usually permits producers to load their bitumen into particular vehicles that require no diluent. But when producers wish to later export that oil abroad, they do have so as to add a diluent at that time to get the bitumen onto ships. On trains, “we have now no flammability points and we’re transferring nearer to 100 p.c product, however the issue for us isn’t actually attending to the US Gulf Coast,” Auld stated. “If you wish to export west or east of Canada you’ll be able to’t try this.” In keeping with Auld, there aren’t any terminals on both Canadian coast that permit diluent-filled bitumen to be loaded onto oil tankers.

As well as, heating components are sometimes wanted on rail vehicles that transport bitumen in Canada.

But when the bitumen is in puck type, issues are a bit simpler. Auld stated CN can transport pucks in a lightweight aluminum gondola automobile, often reserved for coal transportation (which is prone to fizzle out as Canada phases out coal-fired electrical energy vegetation by 2030 and potential export companions observe swimsuit). Gondola vehicles maintain extra product, do not have heating components, and strong oil could be offloaded at current Canadian ports. Then, all that is left is reconstituting the oil on the opposite facet.

That stated, Auld was specific answer like CanaPux in all probability would not work for something however the heaviest of crudes. “The heavier your crude oil is, the much less polymer you want [to make CanaPux] and the extra diluent you want” to ship that oil via a pipeline, Auld stated. In these particular circumstances, the economics favor CanaPux. Lighter crudes, then again, stream via pipelines a lot simpler and would want much more polymer additive to be made into strong type.

An environmental case

A prototype version of CanaPux. It looks like a chocolate pudding cup. Put them in your kids' lunches!

A prototype model of CanaPux. It seems like a chocolate pudding cup. Put them in your children’ lunches!

CN Improvements

In fact, oil is a fossil gas, and burning it would proceed to contribute to carbon emissions which can be already threatening our world. However Auld stated that, though demand for coal and oil for combustion is prone to drop, “we’re going to require heavy, heavy bitumen, particularly for non-combustion functions. We’re all the time going to pave roads, and so on.”

As well as, so long as oil transportation is not made out of date, the atmosphere alongside these routes will likely be in danger. One promise of CanaPux is that it might cut back environmental issues, particularly at export terminals.

In pipelines and at export terminals, the diluent used to maneuver bitumen is usually extraordinarily flammable, and since it is meant to maneuver oil, if there is a leak or an accident, the diluent finally ends up transferring over a wider space within the atmosphere than the oil itself would.

A 2012 New York Occasions article describes a pipeline failure over the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010. Because the diluent-filled bitumen leaked into the river, “it started separating into its constituent elements. The heavy bitumen sank to the river backside, leaving a multitude that’s nonetheless being cleaned up. In the meantime, the chemical components evaporated, making a foul scent that lingered for days. Individuals reported complications, dizziness and nausea.”

CanaPux, against this, floats on water and could be picked up by hand (or shovel) if a gondola automobile will get derailed. Delicate ocean ecosystems are additionally at much less danger of spillage and fireplace if a tanker carrying the product fails.

The polymer that solidifies the bitumen may also be reused, which reduces waste. The pucks do not dissolve in water and do not launch any mud as they’re transported (one thing that thermal coal usually does, regardless of railway makes an attempt to reduce coal mud by loading it a selected manner and spraying “glue-like polymer” on the coal).

All these items bode properly for the way forward for CanaPux, regardless of the lengthy lead time the venture has had at CN Improvements. A part of that’s as a result of the use-case is so slender. “It is a far more area of interest sort of factor,” Auld advised Ars. It applies solely to heavy crude that must be exported from Canada. However for that case, CN thinks it could cut back spill disasters in an economically compelling manner.

Itemizing picture by CN

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