Newly Licensed Tech Could Solve Oil Sands Environmental Impact

| 2011/03/09

An award-winning suite of technologies with the potential to address some of the world’s most intransigent pollution problems while also transforming the chemical industry has been exclusively licensed to GreenCentre Canada by Queen’s University’s PARTEQ Innovations.

The technologies, developed at Queen’s University, target two of the most widely used classes of compounds in the chemical industry: solvents and surfactants.

Solvents and surfactants are essential to industry because they facilitate the chemical reactions that transform chemical compounds into new products.

However, use of solvents and surfactants pose both economic and environmental challenges because they must be removed once their job is done. In traditional chemistry, this removal is often energy-intensive and environmentally hazardous — for example, requiring high heat to remove the solvent by distillation, or necessitating the addition of other chemicals.

GreenCentre is currently developing several classes of green solvents that, when added to chemical mixtures and treated with carbon dioxide or air, can be “switched” between a form that mixes with water and a form that doesn’t, creating a foundation for clean, energy-efficient chemical processes.

When added to oil-contaminated sand, for example, such solvent effectively strips the oily coating from the sand, resulting in pure oil, pure water, and oil-free sand. This process greatly facilitates separation and product recovery while significantly reducing the operating costs and energy consumption compared to traditional processes.

The solvents themselves are easily recovered without additional energy or chemicals, and can be reused multiple times.

Two immediate applications for these compounds are in extracting resources such as bitumen from oil sands, and in recovering recyclable materials such as the polystyrene in expanded polystyrene foam.

“Because of the benign nature of these solvents, operating costs associated with production, waste treatment and power consumption are greatly reduced, as is the overall environmental impact,” says Dr. Rui Resendes, Executive Director of GreenCentre Canada. “These switchable technologies are true ‘game-changers’ at the most fundamental level.”

“These green technologies are a wonderful example of how discovery research can generate innovative solutions to long-standing industrial problems,” says John Molloy, President & CEO of PARTEQ. “The potential impact of these technologies, both financial and environmental, is very significant.”

The principal investigator of the technologies, Dr. Philip Jessop, Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry at Queen’s, was recognized for his work in switchable solvents and surfactants with the 2009 NSERC Polanyi Prize and with a 2010 Killam Research Fellowship. His discovery was also named by the Canadian Institute of Chemistry as one of the Top 20 chemistry discoveries in Canada over the past 100 years.

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Release source: Green Centre Canada at Innovation Park in Kingston

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