Gasification of everything from feedlot manure to oilsands
bitumen could be one of the keys, says Dr. Eddy Isaacs
of the Alberta Energy Research Institute.
Alberta has the geography and the geology to become the
world’s first fully integrated energy economy,
says Dr. Eddy Isaacs, managing director of the Alberta
Energy Research Institute.
Dr. Isaacs’ vision would see waste products of
every energy production process used as a fuel or feedstock
some new energy output or products.
If government and industry could connect up all the dots
to form a fully integrated system, he says, Alberta would
alleviate the public revenue impacts of declining conventional
oil and gas production.
Conventional oil production peaked in the 1970s and natural
gas is nearing a peak,” Dr. Isaacs says. “That’s
a serious threat to future revenues of the province. We
need to rethink the kind of technology we should be striving
for and the shape of the economy it can support.”
One such scenario would involve the gasification of coal,
oilsands bitumen, coke and feedlot manure. Low-emissions
synthesis gas (syngas) would feed the petrochemical industry,
electrical power generation and other natural gas markets.
It could become a source of hydrogen for fuel cells and
also meet the hydrogen needs of oilsands upgrading. “If
hydrogen costs could be reduced, smaller players could
operate on smaller leases in the oilsands because there
would be less need for upgrading economies of scale,” Dr.
Isaacs suggests. “Producing the oilsands would no
longer be just for the biggest companies.”
Carbon dioxide produced by coal gasification could be used
to extract large quantities of residual oil from depleted
oilfields or to displace coalbed methane from Alberta’s
vast coal fields, he says.
“ We have so many resources in our geographic location that
the byproducts from one resource can be used to generate
We also need to adapt technology options that use little
water for producing bitumen from oil sands, he says. Abundant
syngas could be used to heat raw oilsands using a dry retorting
process such as the Alberta Taciuk Process, which involves
evaporating hydrocarbons out of the oilsands.. Clean sand
could then be used to reclaim open-pit oilsands mine sites.
While the Taciuk Process isn’t currently being used
in the Alberta oilsands, it is achieving some success in
the Australian oil shale industry, Dr. IsaacsIssacs says.
Alberta’s conventional oil and gas reserves are declining,
he says. The province has ultimate potential coal and bitumen
reserves to meet Canadian energy demands for hundreds of
years, even at accelerating rates of production.
Gasification technology and development of coalbed methane
could extend gas production — and revenues — almost
indefinitely, while carbon dioxide production could also
help to revitalize declining oilfields.
Both Chevron/Texaco and Royal Dutch Shell operate several
gasification plants, Dr. Issacs notes. Most of these plants
are in locations where conventional gas supplies are scarce
and correspondingly expensive, but the same situation could
soon prevail on this continent.
If North America continues to demand gas at current growth
rates, prices may rapidly rise to levels that would support
gasification projects,” he says. He estimates the
point of economic viability for gasification would be around
$5 to $7 US per GJ;, a level that we are currently experiencing
and that is likely to be sustained into the future. was
dramatically, if only briefly, surpassed in the winter
of 2000-01. “The era of cheap natural gas in North
America is slowly coming to an end,” he says. “That
can either be a serious threat to future provincial revenues
or the key to a new energy future.”
The critical unknown, he admits, is whether high prices
would attract large supplies of competing liquefied natural
gas into the North American market from enormous reserves
in the Middle East, South America and other regions.
-reprinted with permission from C3 Views, the monthly
newsletter of Climate Change Central.