November 8, 2021

Bitumen Beyond Combustion: White Paper – Clean Tech Making Carbon an Economic and Environmental Asset

NEWS RELEASE

Alberta Innovates identifies net-zero options for new bitumen-based advanced materials industry

EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA, November 8, 2021 – Bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands can be repurposed to create a new industry based on advanced materials, and can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a new paper released by Alberta Innovates has confirmed.

The paper examines potential economic and environmental impacts of diverting bitumen away from fuels production to become feedstock for in demand products. This is the premise of Alberta Innovates’ “Bitumen Beyond Combustion” (BBC) vision. Instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere through combustion, it remains sequestered in high value end-use products that are not burned as fuels.

The most promising potential BBC products include carbon fibre, asphalt binder, and activated carbon. These products include strong, light weight composite materials for wind turbine blades and vehicle construction; and activated carbon for energy storage devices. They can make transportation more energy efficient, infrastructure last longer, and renewable generation and energy storage more economic. Alberta’s asphaltene rich bitumen is also ideal for creating asphalt that is longer lasting with less need for maintenance. With industry’s Oil Sands Pathways for Net Zero initiative as a foundation, BBC can make bitumen a resource to help the world to reach net zero emission.

Approximately 80 percent of fossil fuel-related emissions are associated with end use combustion. Emissions reductions can be achieved through diverting bitumen away from combustion, replacing higher emissions-intensity products, and reducing downstream GHG emissions when BBC products are in use. For example, for every million barrels of bitumen used for BBC products, 470,000 barrels could be diverted for non-combustion products, avoiding the release of 65 million tonnes of emissions per year.

Not only could carbon be sequestered in BBC products, the value from each barrel of bitumen could be significantly higher if the heaviest crude is diverted to non-combustion products. If the heavy fraction in a barrel of bitumen is used to make carbon fibre, it can add an estimated $179 to that barrel. Further value is added when the carbon fibre is used to manufacture goods such as auto parts. An entirely new manufacturing sector could be possible as a result.

To realize this transformational economic and environmental opportunity, significant policy support and investment from government and industry would be required to advance the needed innovation and disruptive technologies.

QUOTES

“In the near future, billions if not trillions of dollars will be available to invest in clean tech as companies and countries seek solutions to achieve net zero goals. Bitumen Beyond Combustion provides a path to some of those solutions, while delivering economic growth in clean technologies. We see a future where Alberta and Canada can find radically different uses and new value within conventional energy resources. Leveraging that value in new ways will ultimately support net-zero aspirations.”

Laura Kilcrease, CEO, Alberta Innovates

“We were seeking new ways to use Alberta’s vast bitumen reserves that would have value in the future. Our Bitumen Beyond Combustion strategy shows the potential to create new economic opportunities and significant emissions reductions by reimagining how the resource can be used.”

John Zhou, Vice President, Clean Resources, Alberta Innovates

Read the full paper here: https://albertainnovates.ca/programs/bitumen-beyond-combustion/

BACKGROUND

Alberta Innovates’ Bitumen Beyond Combustion (BBC) strategy envisions an entirely new value chain of non-combustion products derived from the bitumen contained in Alberta’s oil sands. Bitumen would no longer be exclusively used as a crude for transportation fuels. Instead, bitumen will be used to make high-value materials and products with growing demand around the world. Top BBC products include carbon fibre, asphalt binder, and high-value carbon materials such as activated carbon, graphene, carbon nanotubes, metal carbides and synthetic graphite. Asphaltene, an obstacle in processing bitumen into transportation fuels, becomes a competitive advantage in making BBC products.

BBC is intended to:

  • Diversify the uses of Alberta’s oil sands bitumen, resulting in high-value, large-scale, non-combustion products that can be marketed globally, thereby creating a new value-add industry,
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with bitumen from production to consumption,
  • Contribute to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by creating low-carbon-intensity, lightweight products to displace high-carbon-intensity metal and glass products used in various industrial sectors including transportation and infrastructure.

Alberta Innovates is the province’s largest and Canada’s first provincial research and innovation agency. For a century we have worked closely with researchers, companies and entrepreneurs – trailblazers who built industries and strengthened communities. Today we are pivoting to the next frontier of opportunity in Alberta and worldwide by driving emerging technologies across sectors. We are a provincial corporation delivering seed funding, business advice, applied research and technical services, and avenues for partnership and collaboration. Learn how Alberta Innovates.