NanosTech’s New Technology Is Catalyzing Change In Alberta’s Oil Sands

NanosTech is poised to revolutionize oil production by substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions while cutting production costs. Since its founding at the University of Calgary’s Alberta Ingenuity Centre for In-Situ Energy (AICISE), NanosTech has developed a novel nano-catalyst process that improves existing oil recovery methods, providing both economic and environmental benefits for the heavy oil industry.

Alberta’s oil sands producers use steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) to recover bitumen from underground reservoirs. Once the bitumen is brought to the surface, it is upgraded into heavy oil and diluted for transport through pipelines. This process requires large amounts of energy and produces substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making oil and gas extraction the highest emitting industry in Canada.

“Our goal is for every oil sands producer in Alberta to use our technology, so this province can experience significant economic and environmental benefits,” explained Pedro Pereira-Almao, NanosTech’s Founder and Chief Technology Officer.

Pereira-Almao and the NanosTech research team have dedicated their careers to optimizing what they see as an inefficient extraction process. The research team contains a seasoned group of reservoir engineers, earth science researchers, and simulator, catalyst, and upgrading experts at the U of C. Pedro-Almao has held the NSERC industrial chair in Catalysis for Bitumen Upgrading at the U of C’s Schulich School of Engineering and has been working on upgrading technologies for more than 30 years. He’s also co-founded two other ERA-funded projects, LITUS and Carbonova.

Over the last 15 years, the NanosTech team has developed the In-Situ Upgrading Technology (ISUT), an innovation that eliminates the energy- and emissions-heavy step of surface upgrading. Rather than pulling the bitumen above the surface, the ISUT injects a nano-catalyst into the oil sands reservoir, upgrading the bitumen underground.

The ISUT reduces water and steam requirements by up to 43 percent and lowers emissions by up to 35 percent. It does this by incorporating nano-catalysts and reaction conditions with the steam drainage of SAGD, producing diluent solvents and additional heat from the heaviest molecules of the bitumen. ISUT also provides enhanced oil recovery by both increasing production rates by up to 50 percent and producing over 90 percent total recovery of original oil in place. Overall, ISUT raises the oil value to $5-8 per barrel.

ERA has committed $5 million to NanosTech’s project through its Partnership Intake Program. The Partnership Intake Program allows ERA to evaluate proposed projects referred by Trusted Partners, and organizations with rigorous, fair, and transparent processes comparable to ERA’s. With funding secured, NanosTech is gearing up for a pilot demonstration in northern Alberta with a prominent oil sands producer, paving the way for commercial development.

“NanosTech Solutions is set to lead change in the oil patch sector. Thanks to ERA’s support, we are bringing the enhanced oil recovery process to demonstration. Not only is ISUT is the most drastic decarbonization attempt in the oil sands industry, but it will also increase revenues for Alberta’s economy,” said Myles McGovern, President and CEO, NanosTech.