Suncor Energy tests use of radio waves instead of water at oil sands

Suncor Energy tests use of radio waves instead of water at oil sands

Aerial view of Suncor's oil sands extraction facility near Fort McMurray.

Suncor Energy (TSX, NYSE:SU), Canada's largest oil and gas producer, is looking to replace high-pressure steam used to extract bitumen from oil sands with radio waves and so increase current environmental and energy efficiencies.

The technology, developed by U.S. defense contractor Harris Corporation, could help the oil sand industry reduce costs, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, the company said in a statement.

The method, Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating (ESEIEH, pronounced "easy"), consists on heating bitumen with radio frequency energy coming from a surface generator, will be tested for two years at Suncor's Dover oil sands project in northern Alberta.

The ESEIEH project partners are Devon, Nexen Energy ULC, Suncor, Harris Corporation, with funding in part from the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC).

The group has been collaborating on this technology since 2011 with initial physical testing of the technology in 2012 at Suncor's Steepbank mine facility. Testing will now begin at an in situ reservoir for approximately 24 months.

Suncor Energy tests use of radio waves instead of water at oil sands

Here is how it works. (Graphic courtesy of Suncor)

But that is not the only innovation Suncor is trying to lower the cost of resource extraction in a soft market.

The company has also located nine possible locations to use a replication strategy for steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) extraction projects.

“The reason why we call it the replication strategy is we’re trying to come up with exactly the same designed plants,” the firm’s executive vice president, Mark Little, said at the company’s annual shareholders meeting April 30. “If the resource is there, we’re trying to figure out, how do you bring it to market at a less costly manner?”

Other highly sought-after technologies in the oil industry today are solar reclamation and organic solvent extraction.

Use of solar technology could replace expensive and power-intensive ultraviolet lamps in advanced wastewater filtration systems at a fraction of the cost.

Organic solvent extraction aims to eliminate the use of massive quantities water to heat the bitumen at the oil sands and cut emissions.