waterNEXT Challenges

COSIA: Low Energy Water Treatment Technology Challenge

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and the University of Alberta are seeking innovative solutions to improve the environmental performance of the mineable oil sands industry through low energy treatment of dissolved organic compounds present in Oil Sands Process Water (OSPW).


Innovation Challenge

Low Energy Water Treatment Technology

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Challenge Background

Oil sands contain approximately 6% to 15% bitumen and 80% to 85% mineral solids (by weight), with water making up the balance.

To extract bitumen in surface mining operations, OSPW is heated and mixed with oil sands to separate the bitumen from the mineral solids. The bitumen is floated and the tailings (a mixture of water, sand, silt, clay, and some unrecovered bitumen) are deposited in tailings storage.

The overall process is approximately 80% to 85% efficient, i.e. about 80% to 85% of the water is recovered and recycled with 10% to 15% remaining in the tailings pore spaces.

Challenge Partners

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is a unique alliance of oil sands producers focused on accelerating environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands. COSIA enables collaboration and innovation between thinkers from industry, government, academia and the wider public to improve measurement, accountability and performance in the oil sands across four environmental priority areas of Greenhouse Gases, Land, Water, and Tailings. COSIA members search the world for solutions to our toughest problems. COSIA’s Water EPA aspires to be world leaders in water management, producing Canadian energy with no adverse impact on water.

Dr. Mohamed Gamal El-Din is the NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair in Oil Sands Tailings Water Treatment and a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alberta. Dr. Gamal El-Din has an active research program in the area of oil sands tailings water treatment. The goal of this research area is to provide not only innovative treatment and reclamation approaches to protect environmental and public health, but also to facilitate water reuse and/or the safe discharge of treated process water into the receiving environment while ensuring the environment and human health are protected.

COSIA’s Water Environmental Priority Area (EPA) and Dr. Gamal El-Din have formed a research partnership to reduce water use and increase water recycling rates within oil sands operations. Together, they have identified a need for low-energy technologies to treat dissolved organic compounds present in Oil Sands Process Water (OSPW).

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The Opportunity

To date, no treated OSPW has been released back to the Athabasca river even though oil sands mines have been operating for more than 50 years. This imbalance has resulted in either building inventories and/or increasing salination of OSPW due to increased recycle rates and reduced use intensity. Delaying treated OSPW release further will postpone reclamation of mine sites for decades, thus underlining the need for innovative treatment technologies. 

Successful technologies will:


Work in a northern climate


Require little or no energy inputs, operator interaction or maintenance


Treat the dissolved organics such that the OSPW passes the acute bioassays


Be TRL 4 or above

Desired Outcomes & Eligibility:

Successful proposals will, at no cost, be able to work with Dr. Mohamed Gamal El-Din to test out their technology using real OSPW in his research facility at the University of Alberta and may also be eligible to receive funding from COSIA members to further develop and demonstrate the technology in an oil sands application. Multiple technologies may be funded at the discretion of COSIA’s members.

Improvements to existing technologies OR new non-mechanical technologies will be considered.

Challenge Timeline

November 14, 2022

Challenge Opens

January 18, 2022


February 15, 2023

Application Deadline

February 16 - March 14, 2023

Evaluation Period

April 12 - 18, 2023

Finalist Pitch Presentations

Late April, 2023

Winners Announced

This Challenge is presented with support from Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and the University of Alberta.

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