Meeting Energy Demands While Shrinking the Environmental Footprint
Modern societies rely on intensive energy consumption a need which is currently being met largely by fossil fuel production. The scale of consumption is large enough to affect the planet’s biosphere, and it continues to grow, presenting us with one of the greatest technical challenges humankind will face in the 21st century, and a choice between meeting energy demand from available fuels and drastically reducing society’s environmental footprint.
Over the next few decades, Alberta’s oil sands will be a nexus for this challenge: a world-class petroleum resource, whose exploitation has left a legacy of environmental problems on the surface, and, increasingly, in the subsurface. Current exploitation methods require large inputs of energy and water, and emit substantial volumes of greenhouse gases. Dr. Steven L. Bryant, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Materials Engineering for Unconventional Oil Reservoirs at the University of Calgary, is working to bridge the gap between the current technological status of the oil sands industry and where it needs to be to ensure a sustainable, globally competitive future.
To help achieve this goal, Bryant will bring together, lead and co-ordinate a research team combining nanotechnology and materials science research with chemical and petroleum engineering, geoscience and chemistry. Nanomaterials and emerging capabilities in mesoscale science offer an extraordinary opportunity to address a wide range of oil sands challenges. Through focused application of these capabilities, Bryant’s team will work to reduce the process footprint for current extraction platforms, and develop new platforms for energy extraction that minimize environmental impact and maximize productivity. This CERC-led research program will accelerate the industry’s transformation in its approach to on-site energy extraction from the oil sands. Although inspired by industry applications, Bryant’s program is also designed to produce significant advances in basic science—resulting in “bigger picture” uses beyond the energy industry. Greater understanding in all areas will have impacts well beyond oil sands, in much the same way that biomedical nanomaterials advances are now being explored for oil recovery applications.