2007 Winner: Innovation In Oil Sands Research Sponsored By Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Collaboration On Research Program Leads To Lasting Benefits For Alberta Economy And Environment
For as long as he can remember, Dr. Doug Lillico has been designing and building things. Born in Chilliwack, BC, and raised in Fort St. John, he won numerous science prizes in school, so it was only natural he would study Mechanical Engineering when he got to the University of British Columbia.
His early promise gave way to success as he finished first in his class. It was time for a new challenge and he headed to the University of Alberta for his graduate degrees.
A Promising Opportunity
With Fellow ASTech Award Finalist, Dr. Jacob Masliyah, and Dr. Douglas Dale as his supervisors, he was presented an Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) opportunity to conduct oilsands research at the Alberta Research Council (ARC) while studying. He has remained with ARC ever since, concentrating his efforts on heavy oil extraction technologies.
Doug was hired by ARC under an AOSTRA initiative to conduct research in oilsands while getting a Masters and Ph.D. at the U of A. Supervisors were Dr. Dale and Dr. Masliyah.
As ARC’s Manager, Heavy Oil and Oil Sands and leader of the Alberta Energy Research Institute/Alberta Research Council Core Industry (AACI) Research Program, Doug is able to engage in the kind of in situ heavy oil research and development he so enjoys.
In so doing, he collaborates with a team whose achievements have been nothing short of spectacular. And the team is not confined to AACI scientists. In fact, Dr. Lillico states that one of the elements that make the program both successful and enjoyable has been the support and participation of industry partners. The following companies are contributing both financially and through the direct involvement of their own researchers and engineers:
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.
Computer Modelling Group
North American Oil Sands
One would think, from the many nationalities represented by the exceptional companies listed above, that the AACI research must be at once successful and have an impact that extends far beyond Alberta. And one would be correct.
In its 2003 report, evaluation of the Impact and Value of the AACI Program, The Centre for Innovation Studies (THECIS), concluded that for every dollar it spends on R&D, the program yields $12 of value. This is nothing short of staggering from what is, effectively, public-sector research—albeit with a significant practical side. Among the AACI’s major accomplishments are:
- Describing and modelling the key mechanisms in cold production. Reservoir engineering tools were developed to address field concerns such as foamy oil behaviour and wormhole network growth. This work is so advanced that focus has now shifted from studying the mechanisms themselves to identifying and evaluating improvements in operating practices and exploitation strategies.
- Improving and supporting steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). This includes addressing issues such as: interbedded shale; sand control; the impact of non-condensable gases in the steam chamber; initialisation strategies; bottom water; the impact of geochemical reactions near production wells; sub-cool; and, well-bore hydraulic control.
- Improving and extending conventional SAGD performance by adding solvents. AACI’s efforts in this area have led to higher and faster drainage rates, lower energy and water requirements, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
- Using gas and solvents to improve heavy-oil and bitumen recovery. AACI is field testing the use of a mixture of light hydrocarbons tailored to suit individual reservoir conditions and thereby improve cold production of heavy-oil. Existing recovery rates are typically 8-15% of the resource. Were this to be improved, a number of cold production wells that have reached the end of their economic lives could be reactivated. While the economic incentive is driving the research, the significant added benefits include fewer greenhouse gas emissions and decreased water use.
We can see AACI’s work provides a remarkable return on investment. And that benefits Alberta’s economy, thereby directly improving our standard of living. Perhaps even more important, though, is the long-term environmental consequence of the research Doug Lillico and his exceptional team are conducting.
Specific results include reduced greenhouse-gas emissions and decreased water use. Add to that efforts under way to develop effective ways to sequester carbon dioxide inside geological formations, and you get real, long-term socio-economic improvements.
People Behind the Project
The research being undertaken by the following scientists promises to positively impact the health and wellbeing of future generations of Albertans. That is tangible and meaningful. Led by Jose Alvarez, Roy Coates, Xiaohui Deng, Ted Fruanfeld, Haibo Huang, John Ivory, Tawfik Nasr, and, Ron Sawatzky, the terrific AACI team includes the following current members: Olajide Akinlade, Gilles Beaulieu, John Bleile, Jeannine Chang, Karen Enders, Ken Forshner, Hugh Fung, Tarek Hamida, Gordon Heck, Marlene Huerta, Yoshiaki Ito, Chris Jossy, Eddie Jossy, Gerard Korpany, Git Lim, Yongnuan Liu, Mike London, Yvonne Mariacci, Brigida Meza Diaz, Kaz Oldakowski, Valerie Pinkoski, Raj Rajan, Grant Sjostrom, Mafiz Uddin, Don Ungarian, Xinkui Wang, Brad Wasylyk, Brian Wiwchar, and Rong Zheng.