National partial upgrading program – partnerships to accelerate innovation

Aug 24, 2017

Securing the most value for our bitumen has been a major focus for Alberta Innovates (AI) for over 10 years. What started as the ‘next generation upgrading’ program has grown into a multi-stakeholder initiative with federal support.

Initiated by AI in 2014, the National Partial Upgrading Program (NPUP), a combined government and industry group, now pools national ingenuity to find the most environmentally friendly and economically-sustainable ways to get Alberta’s bitumen resources to market.

“Despite the drive toward ‘zero-impact’ energy, oil and gas resources remain an essential part of everyday life,” says Margaret Byl, Executive Director, Advanced Hydrocarbons, Clean Energy division, Alberta Innovates. “It is of the utmost importance to produce, process, and transport oil resources in the cleanest and most efficient manner possible. We believe our partial upgrading advancements are a world-leading effort to continue Canada’s direction for providing the most sustainable and competitive oil and gas resources possible to global markets.”

NPUP partners have been supporting academic and industry focused initiatives that accelerate innovation and provide opportunities to sell Alberta’s bitumen and heavy oil in world markets.

“Our goal is improving product quality, eliminating the use of diluent, and reducing environmental impacts, while maximizing the overall resource value,” says Tom Corscadden, VP Marketing, Engineering and Operations for MEG Energy and NPUP partner.

“What we know is, partially upgraded products have greater value and are more competitive than dilbit in global markets. Partially upgraded bitumen products have lower GHG intensities during refinery processing than dilbit. And processing these products in Western Canada relieves pipeline capacities on a per barrel basis compared to dilbit — which allows for greater volumes to be produced and transported to market for a fixed pipeline capacity,” he adds.

Most recently, the NPUP group has retained Jacobs Consultancy to conduct a white paper study designed to scan and evaluate pre-commercial partial upgrading technologies. Results will help determine which technologies are ready for more detailed evaluation.

The NPUP is also supporting several other ongoing projects, including five at CanmetENERGY, six new projects and four recently completed studies. One study completed earlier this year investigated the feasibility of building an upgrading facility in Alberta. Dr. Jennifer Winters from the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary co-authored this work, which examined the social and economic benefits that could be realized from a 100,000 barrel per day partial upgrading facility in the province. The study concluded that facility construction and twenty years of operations could add $13 billion in GDP and support 30,000 person-years of employment.

“The partial upgrading technology we examined has a positive private and social net benefit to Alberta,” says Winters. “An important part of the benefit includes the increased value of the partially upgraded product, compared with the original bitumen. A second benefit comes from reduced expenditures on diluent for shipping raw bitumen. A final benefit comes in the form of a reduction in the required pipeline capacity for shipping the partially upgraded product to refiners on the U.S. Gulf Coast.”