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Program ID: Innovation Anthology #918
Program Date: 11/30/2017
Program Category: Alberta, Engineering, Oil Sands

Mal Carroll: Syncrude Celebrates 20 Years for Hydro Transport

PROGRAM #918   INTERVIEW WITH MAL CARROLL

MP3:   4.1 MB
TIME:  4:16 MINUTES

Intro:  Mal Carroll is General Manager of Research and Development at Syncrude Canada Ltd.  The company is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the introduction of hydro transport technology to move oil sands ore from pit to plant for processing. Hydro transport was a game changer and is now employed by many other oil sands companies. 

MAL CARROLL

CC:  MAL, THIS IS THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF HYDRO-TRANSPORT AT SYNCRUDE.  WHAT IS HYDRO TRANSPORT?

MC:  Hydro transport is a process used in oil sands mining to transport oil sands from the mine site to the extraction plant using water and pipes and pumps.   

Essentially it involves taking the oil sand, mixing it with warm water, and pumping it in pipes to our extraction facility where the extraction process takes over from there.  

It has actually replaced traditional mining systems using our large bucket wheels and drag lines, and has significantly reduced the amount of energy that’s used to transport the ore.  

And it does two things, actually.  Not only does it allow us to transport the ore more efficiently it also kicks off the processing of the ore. 

So the extraction process is started in the pipeline itself.    

CC:  THIS IS 20 YEARS OLD.  IS THERE SOMETHING THAT IS GOING TO REPLACE IT? IS THERE SOMETHING ON THE HORIZON?  OR IS THIS SOMETHING THAT IS STILL CONTINUOUSLY DEVELOPING?

MC:  Hydro transport is still developing as a technology.  And maybe I’ll just take us back. 

Hydro transport was originally conceived here at Research about 30 years ago in the back of our facility using some very small buckets and water, and slowly evolved into a very large scale system that we’re using here today.   

So, our approach to developing this technology started here at our facility here in Edmonton at the Research Facility, started at a very small lab scale.   

It was then scaled up to a sort of small scale pilot.  I’ll call it a garage scale pilot test.  From there we built a pilot on our site.  And this pilot was where we were able to hone the technology and continually sort of develop the pots and pans needed to do this efficiently and reliably.   

The pilot on our site not only allowed us to learn about the process and the technology needed to actually perform hydro transport.  But we actually earned as well as we did this.
So certainly, there was a lot of support from executive and our owners to develop this technology.  It had a lot of technology uncertainties when we first started with it.   

Then from there we deployed this technology in our North Mine 20 years ago and we have been continually evolving it ever since.   

The technology has, like I said, been deployed in our North Mine.  It’s also used in our Aurora Mine now.  So that’s its second iteration 

And we’ve actually sold this technology and share it with a number of operators in the region.  And in fact, hydro-transport is one of these enabling technologies for the oil sands in general because it did allow us to reduce our operating costs, reduce our energy intensity.   

CC:  WHAT DO YOU SEE ON THE HORIZON FOR HYDRO TRANSPORT?

MC:  I think the focus now for hydro transport now is we’re in this mode of continuous improvement where we are continuing to look at how we can improve the technology in order to make it more efficient, more reliable, smaller scale, smaller footprint. 

I think there’s areas for improvement in terms of getting it closer to the mining face.  And smaller scale, smaller capital involved in building new hydro transport systems.   

CC:  WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO GET IT CLOSER TO THE MINE FACE?

MC:  What we like to do is we like to reduce the number of pieces of mobile equipment that we actually need in order to move the ore. 

So getting it closer to the mining face would allow us reduce the number or maybe even eliminate the use of haul trucks and large face shovels.   

So we’re certainly looking at technology options for the hydro transport system.  

CC:  THANK YOU VERY MUCH, MAL.

MC:  Thank you.

Mal Carroll is the General Manager of Research and Development for Syncrude Canada Ltd.


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Hydro transport technology in the oil sands continues to evolve, says Mal Carroll, Syncrude's GM of research and development (Syncrude)

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