Ian Gates was researching ways to upgrade bitumen when he and his team accidentally found a way to degrade it, making it even more viscous — which, in turn, led to a discovery that they could envelope the oil in self-sealing pellets, with a liquid core and super-viscous skin.
* The pellets are tough and can be safely transported by rail or truck without worrying about spills.
* Because of a gas bubble injected inside each pellet, they are also buoyant
These tough little balls of bitumen could be a pipeline-free way of getting Alberta oil to markets cheaply, sustainably and with less risk of environmental harm, said a release from the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering, where Gates is a professor.
“We’ve taken heavy oil, or bitumen, either one, and we’ve discovered a process to convert them rapidly and reproducibly into pellets,” Gates told CBC News.
Once the pellets are transported, they can be reconstituted back to bitumen — by re-mixing them with a light oil which is produced as a side product of the original process — and then upgraded in the regular way.
“So you’d have to transport the light oil with the solids if you want to reconstitute the heavy oil,” Gates said.
Or, the pellets can be used as they are.
The balls are an ideal feed stock for road paving, without the need to upgrade the product any further, Gates says.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.