Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and the University of Alberta have partnered with Foresight Canada to find solutions that will reduce water use and increase water recycling rates within oil sands operations through the Low Energy Treatment Technology Challenge. 

Oil sands contain approximately 6% to 15% bitumen and 80% to 85% mineral solids (by weight), with water making up the balance. The process of extracting bitumen from Oil Sands Process Water (OSPW) in surface mining operations is currently only about 80% to 85% efficient, and — even though oil sands mines have been operating for more than 50 years — treated OSPW has never been released back into the Athabasca. Further delays on releasing treated OSPW will delay mine site reclamation and ecosystem restoration for decades, highlighting the urgent need for innovative treatment technologies. 

Through the Low Energy Treatment Technology Challenge, COSIA and the University of Alberta are seeking low-energy, non-toxic solutions to treat dissolved organic compounds present in OSPW, improving the environmental performance of oil sands operations.

Successful technologies should work in a northern climate, be a low energy system requiring little or no operator or maintenance interaction, and produce a treated effluent that meets quality thresholds outlined in the Program Guide..

Innovation Challenges like this one are critical pieces of the net zero puzzle, connecting cleantech innovators with industry clients who can almost immediately utilize or pilot their technology to green their practices. The chosen solution for this challenge will receive funding from COSIA members and have the chance to pilot their technology in an oil sands application.


“If Canada is to become the first G7 country to reach net zero, it is critical that we find solutions to improve the environmental performance of traditionally emissions-heavy industries. That’s why we’re extremely proud to be partnering with COSIA and the University of Alberta on this Challenge to bring about new technologies that will reduce the energy required for the oil sands industry to treat water in their tailings ponds.” – Jeanette Jackson, CEO of Foresight Canada

“Virtually every surface mine on earth and virtually every industry in Canada returns treated water to the water body it was drawn from. However, oil sands mines lack regulations to do the same. From more than fifteen years of research and testing, we know that there are a number of high-energy treatment processes that effectively treat oil sands process water (OSPW) but increase green-house gas emissions and can also result in residual waste streams that require additional treatment or disposal. Low energy water treatment technologies that remove the dissolved organics in OSPW will enable the safe release of treated OSPW in a way that is protective of aquatic and human health and doesn’t create other negative environmental effects.” John Brogly, Director, Water, COSIA

Next Steps for Innovators

To give innovators an opportunity to learn more about the Challenge, including desired outcomes, eligibility criteria, as well as a Q&A period, Foresight is hosting a challenge webinar on Wednesday, January 18. Interested parties can register for the webinar here.

Once innovators feel they have a solution to offer COSIA and the University of Alberta, they can apply here.

About Foresight Canada

Foresight is Canada’s cleantech accelerator. Foresight supports the identification and validation of cleantech opportunities and the successful commercialization of solutions. We bring together industry, government, academia, investors, and innovators to address today’s most urgent climate issues and support a global transition to a green economy. Find out more at Follow on Twitter @ForesightCAC.

About our 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 reduce water use and increase water recycling rates within oil sands operations. 

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 help COSIA realize its water aspiration: to be world leaders in water management, producing Canadian energy with no adverse impact on water. Together, they have identified a need for technologies to passively treat dissolved organic compounds present in Oil Sands Process Water (OSPW). 


Written By:

Foresight Canada

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