Exergy recently wrapped up a project to deliver a fully reconfigurable pilot unit for testing water treatment optimization opportunities for thermal in situ oil sands operations. The pilot unit was delivered to the Water Technology Development Centre (“WTDC”), a live fluid test facility located at Suncor’s Firebag SAGD oil sands facility.  Canadian Natural, Cenovus Energy Inc., and CNOOC International are participants at the WTDC, which is a unique industry-collaboration to develop water technologies that improve environmental performance, reduce costs and increase the sustainability performance of industry projects.

Thermal in-situ projects inject steam into reservoirs to heat and liquefy bitumen which is pumped to the surface as a water-bitumen emulsion, and the water is then separated and channeled through extensive water treatment facilities to remove impurities and enable the water to be recycled many times over for steam generation. Water treatment operations are challenged by these high recycle water rates as achieving boiler feed water quality becomes more difficult to achieve with increasing concentrations of solids, silicas, minerals and oils.

Warm Lime Softening (WLS) operations are used in many projects to reduce oxygen, carbon dioxide, silica, hardness, trace oil, and other impurities, so the water can be re-used in boilers. Industry operators are seeking to reduce the energy demand, improve the reliability and reduce the high cost of this water treatment step by optimizing energy efficiency of the WLS operation.

“The industry operators were seeking an advancement to existing test programs to develop WLS performance improvements. Collaborating with the WTDC team, Exergy developed a scaled down-version of a WLS to support enhanced screening of different chemistries and to build an increased understanding of WLS operating conditions,” explained R&D projects and lab operations manager Tanner Ball.

Exergy’s team built a lab-scale Minimum Viable Product unit within two months. The early engineering and design functions were completed using cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) model reviews and report creation. The fully functional prototype was shipped to a research team at the University of Alberta where it was tested, and feedback was provided.

“Our team used augmented reality technology for testing and progress reviews of the equipment, which was particularly useful with all the COVID-19-related restrictions. The client was able review the progress of fabrication remotely using AR by placing the digital model on the physical asset to confirm construction accuracy,” explained Exergy’s digital services and marketing manager Scott Hunter.  Exergy was able to incorporate feedback before designing a larger mobile unit which was housed in a Reconfigurable Technology Innovation Laboratory Trailer also known as “ReTILT.” Tanner noted, “Locating the trailer at the WTDC enables experiments and testing to be done with real process fluids away from the operating plant, where changes to processes may lead to plant down time.”  The trailer has a lab section and a pilot section.  The pilot section can be replaced so that the trailer itself can actually pilot test multiple technologies over its lifetime.

“The WLS pilot built by Exergy provides an integrated test platform, that is new to SAGD. We are excited to get started,” explained Tom Kemppi, senior technology engineer at Suncor.

Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) is an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen.

AR screen capture with purple and pink pipes

Exergy used AR technology for testing and tours of the WLS trailer

PIcture taken from the outside of the WLS trailer

Inside the ReTILT with WLS unit inside

The trailer was transferred from Exergy’s X-Lab adjacent to the University of Calgary to the facility in northern Alberta

The fully reconfigurable unit was shipped to northern Alberta where it was tied into the WTDC. Because it can be retooled for other uses, when a new opportunity comes up where fluid testing is required it can be moved to a different location.

In this video the trailer housing the project-scale equipment was transferred from our X-Lab adjacent to the University of Calgary to the facility in northern Alberta.

Technology Development & Deployment

Learn more about how Exergy Solutions is accelerating clean energy and process-related technology development and deployment for our clients through the unique integration of rapid prototyping, field-scale piloting, digital solutions and advanced manufacturing. 

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