By Dr. Joule Bergerson
Co-lead, Life Cycle Assessment of Oil Sands Technologies
On January 25, 2012 members of the project I co-lead with U of T Professor Dr. Heather MacLean – Life Cycle Assessment of Oil Sands Technologies (LCA-OST) – held a workshop for industry partners to introduce Phase 3 of the Project: An assessment of emerging oil sands technologies.
At the workshop, held in Calgary, the team proposed a method to compliment our engineering models for undertaking the assessment: Expert Elicitation. We made the pitch to 15 representatives from seven energy companies who all provided valuable feedback. Expert elicitation is a method through which data can be obtained based on the quantitative judgment of relevant experts, in situations where the existing literature is insufficient to accurately characterize a technology or process. There are multiple ways in which an expert elicitation can be conducted, including in-person interviews, group discussions and the use of software tools.
The LCA-OST Project is a collaborative effort between researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto. The overall objective of the LCA-OST Project is to improve scientific understanding of the life cycle environmental implications of current and developing oil sands technologies. By publishing our findings, we endeavor to improve the information available in the public literature, so as to support public and private sector choices about major investments in oil sands technologies as well as to drive further research and development.
Past work by the Project (Phases 1 and 2) involved the creation of a model capable of characterizing the life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of current oil sands operations. All stages of a transportation fuel life cycle were considered: recovery and extraction of bitumen, transport, possible upgrading, refining, distribution, and eventual combustion in a vehicle.
LCA-OST Phase 3: Emerging Oil Sands Technologies
Currently, the LCA-OST group is working on a project to assess the technical, emissions and economic performance of emerging oil sands technologies. Our goal is to help guide the research, development, and deployment process by helping to avoid surprises, target investments, and ensure that the goals of innovation will be achieved.
Several challenges arose early in the emerging technologies project with respect to gathering and interpreting data. A high percentage of the existing data on emerging technologies is proprietary and unavailable for analysis. Compared to the mature technologies previously evaluated, the projected performance of the emerging technologies is associated with a disproportionately high uncertainty. As many technologies are not yet at commercial scale, there are additional complications involved with scaling up data from lab or pilot scale to get a good indication of expected commercial performance.
In light of these challenges, we propose to undertake an expert elicitation to gather feedback from industry experts relating to the economic and environmental performance of emerging technologies in the following life cycle stages: recovery and extraction, upgrading, transport, and refining.