Canadian taxpayers have contributed $10 million to demonstrate the commercial potential of a technology that promises to lower the cost and carbon footprint of extracting oil from tar sands/oil sands bitumen.
In place of steam, the technology uses electromagnetic radiation—similar to that in microwave ovens—to heat underground bitumen deposits enough for their sludge-like raw hydrocarbon to flow into recovery wells and be pumped to the surface, reports JWN Energy.
The approach “efficiently mobilizes heavy oil and bitumen by using radio waves to heat the water already present in the reservoir,” claims Acceleware, the company behind the technology. “[It] requires no chemicals or solvents, no external water, utilizes a smaller surface footprint, and can reduce GHG emissions by 50 to 100% compared to SAGD [steam-assisted gravity drainage].”
The company claims microwave-heating also “has the potential to reduce capital costs by as much as 70% and operating costs by up to 40% compared to SAGD,” and is viable one well at a time, “allowing both large and small operators to explore new deposits, and produce them profitably and cleanly.”
The company received $10 million in federal and provincial funding through Emissions Reductions Alberta to field test its technology at commercial pilot scale.
The Carnegie Endowment’s Oil-Climate Index finds that “most oilsands crude is associated with 31% more emissions than the average North American crude, from the point of extraction through its life cycle to the point of end use.” Crucially, while new technology might reduce that somewhat, it would not lower the greenhouse gas emissions released when the oil produced is burned.