Alberta Innovates sees 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.

Approximately 80 per cent of fossil fuel-related emissions are associated with end-use combustion. The central concept of our Bitumen Beyond Combustion (BBC) strategy is to divert the heavy fraction in bitumen from fuels production, and instead use it to generate materials and products with growing demand around the world.

Our BBC strategy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta currently produces more than three million barrels of bitumen every day, which is used for transportation and heating fuels. Half of every barrel can be used to manufacture “BBC products” instead of burning as fuel. This would reduce downstream (end user) greenhouse gas emissions by at least 210 million tonnes per year. 

Products made from Alberta bitumen can be manufactured in a way that takes advantage of the heavy fraction of bitumen, resulting in similar or reduced GHG intensity compared to current products. These can replace existing products with high emission intensities such as glass and steel.

Other downstream emission reductions would come from using BBC products like carbon fibre, asphalt binder and energy carbons in end products:

  • BBC carbon fibre could be used in composites for wind turbine blades, making them lightweight and more durable for generating ultra-low GHG emissions electricity.
  • Carbon fibre composites used in lightweight vehicles and aircrafts would increase energy efficiency.
  • Asphalt binder made from used in road paving would make roads more durable and long-lasting.
  • Energy carbons from bitumen could be in supercapacitors and sodium-ion batteries. These energy storage devices are critical components in emerging smart grids and renewable energy systems.

Bitumen Beyond Combustion (BBC) White Papers

Learn more about the BBC initiative in these documents

Value Proposition

Not only would 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 instead of using it for transportation fuels.

Assuming a price per barrel of bitumen of $50/barrel (five-year average using bitumen valuation methodology):

  • The heavy fraction in the bottom half of the barrel could be used to make carbon fibre worth $179.
  • Or – $73 worth of asphalt binder.
  • Or – energy carbons worth more than $100-plus-dollars.

The total value of the bitumen barrel would rise from $50 to $233 per barrel.

  • Further value is added when the carbon fibre is used to manufacture goods such as auto parts, golf clubs, wind turbines and airplanes.

National Impact

An entirely new manufacturing sector could be possible as a result. This would have a meaningful impact on GDP.

Through BBC, we can create a new value chain to meet the requirements of climate-sensitive markets.

At the same time, the light fraction becomes more valuable, since it can be shipped and refined more easily.

This can be a tremendous transformational economic and environmental opportunity for Canada and for Alberta. The amount of bitumen that is converted to BBC products in the future will depend on successfully developing new production technologies and demonstrating the value of BBC products.

Exporting one million barrels a day of bitumen for current uses will generate $18 billion a year in gross revenue, based on $50 per barrel.

If the same volume of bitumen was used to generate BBC products in Alberta, the potential revenue would rise to $42 billion a year.

Under global net-zero scenarios – total annual revenue from BBC can exceed $100 billion by 2050.