Sunlight powered GHG treatment for oil sands tailings ponds

H2nanO Incorporated

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Tailings ponds in Alberta’s oil sands are a substantial source of fugitive emissions, including methane and carbon dioxide. The ponds contribute as much as 5-10% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of oil sands mining operations and impact local air quality and odor. To date, no viable solution has been selected by mine operators to address this challenge. These emissions constitute an annual carbon emissions value of up to $50M in 2022 pricing and a potential reduction target for oil sands operators’ net zero GHG goal by 2050.

H2nanO Inc., a Canadian cleantech innovator, has pioneered a first-of-kind passive emissions mitigation and treatment technology, called the SolarPass Floating Reactive Barrier (FRB). Powered by natural sunlight, the SolarPass FRB is a passive, in-pond process that uses proprietary buoyant materials to intercept and transform emissions compounds and gas bubbles in water into safer, low global warming potential forms.

To accelerate the scale-up of SolarPass FRB and optimize performance in tailings ponds, H2nanO and industry partner Suncor Energy Inc. will complete a 2-year, $6.6M project for integration of SolarPass via in-pond demonstration and emissions monitoring. The pilot will be the world’s largest solar photocatalytic treatment system, advancing a new approach for fugitive emissions in oil sands mining and providing a model for further emissions reduction in Canada and beyond.

The ERA Shovel-Ready funding will enable immediate high-quality employment for 23 persons in 2021 and 34 in 2022. H2nanO will also expand its Alberta operations – established in 2019 – to initiate a high-tech manufacturing and operations hub to build and market SolarPass FRB from Alberta. At full scale, H2nanO’s SolarPass technology could reduce oil sands mining GHG emissions by over 1 Mt in CO2 equivalents per year and establish a sustainable, scalable tool to reduce tailings ponds impact over the lifetime and closure of mine operations. The project will create new patents, publications, and know-how to strengthen Alberta’s cleantech innovation leadership, and market a globally relevant SolarPass FRB platform for further GHG reductions.