The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and the Ledcor Group of Companies are investing millions of dollars in a bid to make the oilsands more environmentally friendly.
Both entities will invest $1.5 million for a total of $3 million to establish a research chair to seek a solution to make the oilsands more sustainable.
“The chair will be joining us in July and it will be over the summer where we intend to build the team,” Stuart Cullum, executive director of novaNAIT said. NovaNAIT is the school’s centre for applied research and energy transfer.
“The lab is already there, ready to be used, and the expectation is that the research will actually be starting in a significant way in the fall.”
According to Cullum, the research will be focused on real-world problems and results that will be applied in the oilsands.
“The intention is to provide scientific investigation and solutions using green chemistry and engineering,” he said. “The idea is that there will be a designing of chemical products and processes that will reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.
“There’s not a silver bullet, so to speak,” Cullum added. “At the end of the day, the oilsands have to be environmentally conscious as well as economically viable, and really, our intention is to use this program to help the industry address both issues to become more environmentally sustainable, but as well, maintain the economics to remain sustainable as an industry.”
NAIT hopes that, as a result of this research, a new curriculum will be developed for students within the next two years.
“The expectation is that, out of this research program, there will be opportunities for students to engage in the work, both in a lab as well as in the field,” Cullum said. “There is an intention to start a green chemistry and engineering curriculum, and that’s already an ongoing process.”
Cullum noted that although the specific focus of the research chair is unknown at this time, it’s likely the tailings ponds issue will be impacted.
“I think there are opportunities within the tailings ponds issue, with the use and re-use of water, in particular, that we could engage in,” he said. “Whether it is directly tied to the tailings ponds or indirectly tied to the tailings ponds, I think it’s safe to say that there will be an impact in that area.”