Alberta’s Industrial Heartland – The High Tech of Low Sulphur

June 27, 2016

Field Upgrading has solution to marine fuel pollution

It’s a quonset no different than those on local farms used to store seed drills and swathers. Inside this quonset, however, sits millions of dollars worth of instruments, tubes, pipes, steel, and innovation.

It’s all assembled into Field Upgrading’s 10 barrel per day upgrading test facility. Compared to the 250,000+ barrel per day upgrading facility a few range roads over, it’s like a mouse beside an elephant. But size isn’t what Field Upgrading is going for. Low sulpur fuel is.

From Technology to Test Plantfu 2016 crowd

“We were on the lookout for a cheaper and cleaner way to do this job,” Neil Camarta explains in a recent interview with Business News Network. Camarta is the President and CEO of Field Upgrading. With business partner Guy Turcotte, and over 30 years in the energy sector in Alberta, he was convinced that upgrading bitumen could be revolutionized.

The technology started as an idea, and after getting a passing grade in a laboratory setting, it was scaled up to build their pilot plant in a quonset just north of Fort Saskatchewan. Field Upgrading welcomed nearly a hundred curious media, government, and supporters to showcase their facility in mid-June.

Just Add Sodium

A circle tour of the test facility can be completed in about 100 paces. And within that 100 paces, you come across the reactor – the key piece of equipment in de-sulphurization and upgrading.

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 retrieved to recycle back into the process at the start.

Local Product with Global Demandfu 2016 samples

The 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. It has about 3.5% sulphur which makes it environmentally unfriendly. 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 much stricter sulphur regulations in fuel. By 2020, it is expected that the global sulphur limit for marine fuel oil will be dropped from 3.5% to 0.5%. Therefore, shipping companies will be forced to find sources of lower sulphur fuel to power their tankers. For Field Upgrading, this could open the valves to an enormous global demand for their low sulphur marine fuel.

Up Next: Produce 250 Times More Productfu 2016 reactors

The 10 barrel per day pilot plant received rave reviews from its owners and investors. But at 10 barrels per day, it’s hardly enough to power one ship for a couple minutes.

The next step for Field Upgrading is a 2,500 barrel per day demonstration facility. This is the intermediate stage before full commercialization with a 10,000 barrel per day plant.

“Oil sands is a high tech business,” says Camarta. And with that, it takes testing the technology in stages. Not all of the equipment is simply increased in size by factor of X. So going from 10 barrels to 2,500 barrels per day allows the Field Upgrading team to make modifications that sets them up for the 10,000 barrel per day unit.

As the project advances, it continues to draw interest nationwide. With funding from both the provincial and federal governments via environmental and climate change programs, many are interested to see this technology through to commercialization. It also boasts no direct SOx or NOx emissions from the plant itself through the upgrading process, thus getting enthusiastic nods on the emissions control front as well.

In the meantime, as Field Upgrading eyes plans for a demonstration facility, their farm-style quonset is proving there IS a cheaper and cleaner way to do the job.

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Written By Vanessa Goodman