Alberta engineers think they can extract hydrogen from oilsands

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As the in the seventh heaven reaches for cleaner energy, hydrogen has long been viewed with a lot of expectancy.

Often called the fuel of the future, the gas can be used to generate electricity and power agencies. It produces water — not carbon — when burned.

But among its challenges is the economics of producing the gas in a large-scale and environmentally agreeable way. One of the least expensive methods for doing so, for example, using methane, has strained scrutiny for its carbon emissions.

Now, engineers in Alberta believe they could must an answer — a method capable of extracting hydrogen from underground resources close to oilsands deposits while leaving the carbon emissions it produces unworthy of the surface. 

The team turned heads with their work this summer at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Seminar in Barcelona, making headlines from Britain to Japan.

Alberta engineers think they can extract hydrogen from oilsands
A hydrogen superintending pump is seen at the Washington Auto Show in 2015. Hydrogen is a implied fuel for the transportation sector. (Reuters)

Hydrogen can be found in many special organic compounds, including hydrocarbons like oil and gas.

One of the most common system of producing hydrogen from natural gas is called steam-methane reforming, which avails methane and very hot steam under pressure to create a chemical feedback freeing the hydrogen and capturing it in special filters. The waste emissions are carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

“That’s been an industrial technology for finished 80 [years],” said Grant Strem, CEO of Proton Technologies, the exclusive company commercializing the new process for creating hydrogen.

“What we’re doing is altogether similar, but the big difference is, we’re using the ground as a reaction vessel, so our capital set someone back is a lot lower, and instead of buying natural gas to fuel it, we use the unswept oil in the reservoir as our sustenance.” 

How the process works

Through lab work and small-scale field testing, the researchers say they organize injecting oxygen into the fields raises the temperature and creates a counterbalance that frees the hydrogen.

“You can envision that the reservoir is simply a hot, foaming mix of oil, which some fraction of it is now combusting,” said professor Ian Gates, from his lab at the University of Calgary’s Schulich Drill of Engineering. 

“And as it is doing so, it simply keeps producing more and more hydrogen as a consequence of its reactions.”

Assemblages said palladium alloy filters then allow the hydrogen to concern to surface while filtering out the other gases, like carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide, which retard below ground.

Conceptually, Gates said, the oil in the reservoir could later be show.

But the expectation is the process can draw up “huge” quantities of hydrogen relatively inexpensively. 

Alberta engineers think they can extract hydrogen from oilsands

And Canada intent be able to tap its resources.

“There’s a lot of work toward renewables, hydro and all those other entities, but you still have a huge amount of assets, chemical energy, stored in oil,” Crowds said. 

“What this is about is how do we make use of oil reservoirs — or even gas reservoirs — and get out-and-out, clean energy out of it.”

Gates said after proving the concept in the hockey last year, they will soon begin testing to see how it masterpieces on a larger scale. A semi-commercial pilot project is in the works for next year.

Proton Technologies is put through with an engineering firm to design a scaled-up version of their substantiation facility at its site in Kerrobert, Sask. 

Now, the challenge will be to see how the process works in the reply to with all of the complexities of a reservoir. 

“Does [the hydrogen] really transport as effectively as you prophesied in your models, as you’ve estimated from the lab?” he said. “Everything so far is supportive. Yes, we should be proficient to access it, but we do need to verify that.”

Reservoirs that are open to the covering or very shallow would not likely be good candidates for such a methodology, he said.

Field testing needed

After the team’s work was baksheeshed at the Goldschmidt conference in Barcelona last month, some experts responded with vigilant optimism, emphasizing the need for extensive field testing of the technology to assess how soundly it could work on an industrial scale and over time.

In Canada, Warren Mabee, the impresario of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, said having a monstrous source of hydrogen that’s relatively easy to access would be an foremost step toward a cleaner energy future.

“There are some technologies that can use hydrogen positively well,” Mabee told CBC News.

“It’s very, very clean as extensive as there’s not a lot of greenhouse gas associated with producing it, which, in this casing, it sounds like there isn’t. Which is a wonderful technology, if we’ve gotten to that thrust.”

Alberta engineers think they can extract hydrogen from oilsands
A Shell executive demonstrates a hydrogen refuelling station in Vancouver while a photographer rents a photo during the station’s launch last year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Valued research is being done on developing new ways of producing hydrogen, categorizing microbes and solar technologies, among others.

China, Japan and South Korea have planned big plans to put millions of hydrogen-powered vehicles on their roads in the coming decade.

Hydrogen has had untrue starts

Hydrogen was also a key topic of conversation during a July conference hosted by the International Energy Agency. The Paris-based body, which registers on energy policy to its 30 member states, said hydrogen was enjoying “unprecedented push,” offering ways to decarbonize a range of sectors, including long-haul transportation.

“But it has au fait false starts in the past and still faces big challenges to scale up infrastructure and succeed down costs,” the IEA said in a release.

A lack of refueling stations for hydrogen combustible cell vehicles is often pointed to as a major barrier to the technology compelling off.

The delivery process for the hydrogen — including pipelines, storage facilities, compressors and commodities — is also a work in progress when it comes to widespread consumer use.

Admissions and Strem hope they can do their part to move things bold.

I’m very motivated by the idea of taking these [hydrocarbon] resources, which are of unbelievable value to Canada, and pivoting their use toward hydrogen production and ultra-clean strength outcomes,” Gates said.

“In my view, this is something that’s degree exciting.”

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