Moran, Dr. Kevin

2011 Finalist: Innovation In Oil Sands Research Sponsored By Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Oil Sands Technology Good For Environment And Pays For Itself

Dr. Kevin Moran has been a key player in developing a process that has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of oil sands tailings, while providing a positive economic benefit.

“The technology that we’ve developed makes the oil sands a more sustainable industry,” says Dr. Moran, Vice President of Process Development at Titanium Corporation Inc. (TIC). “By reducing the losses of hydrocarbon solvent used in the process it offers important environmental benefits; and pays for itself by increasing the recovery of saleable bitumen and zircon from mineable oil sands. Traditionally, environmental technologies come at a cost; this one generates revenue.”

Tackling the Issue 

The environmental impact of lost bitumen and hydrocarbon in tailings is a significant issue for the oil sands industry. The TIC technologies will significantly reduce the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in tailings impoundments and residual bitumen. Reducing these and other toxins in process-affected water, and removing hydrocarbons will facilitate air quality improvements and large-scale water treatment for eventual release back into the environment. This will allow more prompt reclamation of disturbed lands and reduce the long-term liability of earth dam structures holding elevated water inventories.

A chemical engineer by training, Dr. Moran has been instrumental in turning conceptual laboratory observations into a commercial prototype pilot plant, from plant design through to taking samples and producing material balances quantifying process performance.

“It’s very rewarding to have taken this project from end to end. I’ve guided it from test tubes and exploratory work to proof-of-concept piloting to a large demonstration plant,” Dr. Moran says.

Value from Waste

Dr. Moran has pursued innovative options for separating components from froth treatment tailings built on solvent extraction and vapour-phase stripping. TIC has six patents or applications to protect the technologies, collectively known as Creating Value from Waste (CVW).

The CVW Process will recover over 70 per cent of the bitumen lost in tailings and up to 95 per cent of the contained solvent, leading to approximately 80-per cent reduction in VOC emissions. Under Dr. Moran’s direction, TIC has invested over $30 million on the development of the process. This work has been supported by grants from Alberta’s Department of Energy and federally from the Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Recovered Costs

Dr. Moran is the first researcher to show that it is possible to recover the bitumen, solvent and valuable heavy minerals that are currently lost to tailings in a commercially viable process. TIC conservatively estimates that combined revenue from the sale of products that can be recovered from oil sands froth treatment tailings ranges from $400 million to $600 million.

Dr. Moran’s technologies allow Alberta to emerge as a world-scale producer of zircon – Canada doesn’t currently produce zircon – representing a great opportunity for growth and diversification of the Alberta economy.

TIC is wrapping up the development phase of the work and Dr. Moran intends to take a leadership role in rolling it out the multi-year, multi-million-dollar commercialization.

“This is my passion,” he says. “It would be a personal accomplishment to see these technologies implemented commercially.”