Investment boost for oil sands and coal gasification projects

Paul Boughton

In Calgary, Canada, Suncor Energy has filed an application to construct and operate a third oil sands upgrader, designed to increase the production capacity of its oil sands facility to more than half a million barrels of oil per day.

Plans call for the new upgrader to be constructed approximately half a kilometre southwest from Suncor’s existing upgrader facilities. The new facility would include cokers, hydrotreaters, utilities support and a 50-kilometre hot bitumen pipeline to connect the upgrader with Suncor’s in-situ operations.

A decision by regulators is expected to take approximately two years, and construction is not expected to begin until 2007. The proposed upgrader is currently being designed to produce light crude oil. Production from the new facility is expected to be brought on line in phases starting in 2010 with full capacity of approximately 550000 barrels per day targeted in 2012 (Fig.1).

“This is the next step in building on a proven growth strategy,” said Rick George, president and chief executive officer. “Filing this application brings us closer to our goal of half a million barrels per day – more than double our current production capacity.”

It is currently estimated that constructing the upgrader will cost approximately CDN$5.9billion. The estimated capital cost is provided at a very preliminary stage and is subject to a high level of uncertainty. The project scope and engineering detail will continue to evolve and will influence the estimated capital cost. Integration opportunities in the downstream, market analysis, advances in new technology, availability of labour and the cost of critical components such as steel and fabrication, among other factors, will also affect project scope and cost estimates.

Seeking regulatory approval for the third oil sands upgrader is just one step Suncor plans to take to achieve its long-term production targets. Later this year and in 2006, Suncor is expected to submit separate applications that will outline plans to provide bitumen feed to the proposed upgrader. Costs associated with bitumen feed will depend on the scope and configuration of the facilities. While the company does not yet have preliminary cost estimates for these facilities, costs for bitumen feed could exceed an additional CDN$4billion. Suncor has also identified the need for additional pipeline capacity from Fort McMurray to Edmonton and the company is pursuing various options to accommodate the additional volumes.

As part of the regulatory process, Suncor identified potential environmental impacts related to the proposed production increases and the actions the company would take to mitigate the impact to air, water and land. Suncor also completed a social and economic impact assessment, which estimated that construction of the proposed upgrader could employ approximately 4000 workers. Approximately 300 new permanent jobs at Suncor’s oil sands facility are expected to be created when the upgrader is in full operation.

Coal gasification

The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) has successfully completed a series of 250psig, air-blown coal gasification tests with three different coals in its new flex-fuel test facility (FFTF) in Des Plaines, Illinois, USA. The tests were conducted in support of a Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation (SWPC) programme for the development of novel syngas cleaning systems.

According to the GTI, the results demonstrated the effectiveness of the SWPC ultra-clean process (UCP) for halide and sulphur removal from gasifier syngas down to parts per billion (ppb) levels, as well as the ability of the FFTF to conduct multi-fuel, rapid-turnaround testing of gasification-based technologies in a cost-effective manner.

The objective is to economically achieve the most stringent cleanup requirements for sulphur species, halide species, mercury, and particulate matter expected for chemical and fuel synthesis applications (total sulphur species <60ppb, halides <10ppb, mercury <0.01ppb, and particulate <0.1ppm) in advanced, near-zero emission, efficient multi-production energy plants.

The UCP is a dry process that injects fine sorbent particles into two stages of barrier filter – reactors integrated in series, coupling efficient particle capture with an effective entrained and filter cake reaction environment. The process concept exploits existing particulate control devices as chemical reactors for multi-contaminant control at moderate/warm temperatures.

The latest tests successfully commissioned and tested the upstream sorbent injection systems and filter reactors for syngas halide and sulphur removal. Contaminant levels in the 10-50ppb range were measured in the ultra-clean syngas corresponding to removal efficiencies exceeding 99.99percent. These contaminant levels are well below the limits of detection of conventional analytical technologies.

Innovative sampling and analytical systems were designed and implemented in the FFTF to enable the type of systems evaluations that were carried out in the UCP testing. Simultaneous on-line analyses of gas compositions from raw gas concentrations to ultra-clean levels allowed for near real-time assessment of the performance of the integrated gasification and gas conditioning system. Comprehensive and accurate diagnostic capabilities make cost-effective testing of technologies and systems at the FFTF possible.

The FFTF’s ability to accept a broad range of fuels contributed significantly to the timely achievement of the UCP test objectives. Three fuels with widely different characteristics were processed during the tests, including low-volatile metallurgical coke,
high-ash Indian coal, and low rank lignite.

“The recent testing also demonstrated the FFTF’s ability to be turned around quickly, with three successful gasification tests conducted during March,” said Bruce Bryan, director of Gasification at GTI.

The FFTF is capable of operation at pressures up to 400psig with either air, or oxygen-blown gasification of coal or biomass at feed rates ranging from 0.25–1.5tonnes per hour.

Meanwhile ConocoPhillips has begun work on the front end engineering design (FEED) package for the Southern Illinois Clean Energy Centre. This facility will use ConocoPhillips’ E-Gas technology to process Illinois coal to generate approximately 600MW of electricity and 95millionft3/d of pipeline quality substitute natural gas at a minemouth site in Williamson County, Illinois.

The FEED package will be performed by ConocoPhillips and Fluor Corporation under the E-Gas technology alliance agreement. Siemens SGT6-5000F combustion turbines will be utilised in the development of the FEED package design for the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) facility. Currently 178 of these machines operate in North America, operating on natural gas.

The conversion to this IGCC application will be modelled on similar Siemens hardware that operated successfully for 125000 hours in conjunction with the E-Gas technology gasification system at other facilities.

“This is a key step in the next wave of clean, solid-fuelled power generation and co-production plant facilities in the United States,” said Chip Troxclair, manager of ConocoPhillips’ gasification programme.

Recent Issues