CN Rail and the Heart Lake First Nation northeast of Edmonton are planning to build a pilot plant this year to produce “bitumen pucks”, a solid tar sands/oil sands bitumen product that would float on water, could be delivered without pipelines or oil tankers, wouldn’t require diluent, and could increase fossil producers’ profits by C$15 per barrel.
The new product, CanaPux, was developed jointly by CN and Wapahki Energy, a business owned by Heart Lake.
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“The pucks resemble a single-serving yogurt container and are about the size of a bar of soap,” CBC reports. “Bitumen is converted into a solid product and sealed in plastic. The pucks are designed to be transported in regular container cars by train and loaded onto cargo ships at under-utilized coal terminals on the West Coast.”
Foreign refineries would process the pucks by heating them to 130°C to separate the bitumen from the plastic.
The $50-million pilot plant is expected to process about 10,000 barrels of bitumen and 275 tonnes of recycled plastic per day. CN and Wapahki are each spending $16.7 million on the venture, and they expect either a government or a private investor to cover the rest of the cost.
“The facilities are expandable and scalable. This is our pilot project. We designed it that size because it makes commercial sense and it’s economic,” said Alfred Fisher of the Sproule energy consultancy.
“At the same time, we still have to learn. We built it small enough that we can learn. If we have a problem, it’s not that big a deal.”