Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Toyo Engineering a “solid” choice for CN

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CanaPux™ tablets CanaPux™ tablets Courtesy the Globe and Mail

CN has selected Calgary-based Toyo Engineering Canada Ltd. to design and build a pilot project to produce CanaPux™pellets, described as “a key step toward demonstrating the commercial viability of moving bitumen by rail in solid form.”

CanaPux™, developed by CN and InnoTech Alberta, are solid, dry pellets about the size of a bar of soap that can be shipped by rail with lower risk of explosion or water contamination than bitumen in sludge form, which is usually diluted with volatile petroleum-based additives—diluents—to ease loading and unloading with rail tank cars and pipelines. Diluents allow bitumen to be pumped into pipelines or railcars, but also increases its flammability.

CanaPux™ “meets the rigorous strength requirements for bulk transport, floats in water and does not leak or dissolve, so there is minimal risk of environmental contamination to oceans, lakes and rivers,” CN said. Toyo will participate in a closed-loop pilot project to create equipment that can solidify and re-liquefy up to 1,000 barrels of bitumen per day. The material will move in gondola cars.

CN and Toyo will create a presentation center where interested shippers, potential commercial partners and key stakeholders can see the equipment and how the CanaPux™pellets process would work from origin in Alberta to potential customer destinations in markets around the world. The pilot project involves producing CanaPux™pellets for large-scale supply chain testing, including movement in rail gondola cars, unloading at port locations, storage in ground piles and loading of ships.

At the same time, CN continues to explore potential licensing options for CanaPux™ and identify potential customers. Initial conversations have been met with enthusiasm from producers, potential transloaders, ports and refiners.

“Working with InnoTech Alberta, CN has developed CanaPux™, an innovative product and new way of transporting bitumen that puts both safety and the environment at the forefront,” said CN Vice President of Corporate Development and Sustainability Janet Drysdale. “This partnership with Toyo continues our development of a new supply chain that has the potential to unlock offshore markets for Canada’s energy producers.”

“Toyo is proud to partner with CN and InnoTech Alberta to build upon the innovative work they have done in the development of CanaPux™ pellets,” said Toyo Engineering Canada Ltd. President Taro Takahashi. “Demonstrating how bitumen will be transformed from liquid to solid form and loaded into railcars will be key to the successful launch of this new supply chain.”

“This is an exciting step in the development of CanaPux™ pellets, and we look forward to working with Toyo to move this oil sands innovation forward,” said InnoTech Alberta Managing Director Ross Chow.

CN filed a patent for CanaPux™ in February 2017. The production process turns bitumen, the heavy crude oil extracted from oil sands fields in Alberta province, into a mostly solid form by mixing and wrapping it with polymer. In the event of an accident, the packets will not explode, leak, or sink in water, CN said, adding that the product could emerge as a niche alternative to current methods of shipping bitumen, which requires diluent.

In February, CN’s Drysdale said the railroad was working on perfecting CanaPux™ pellets in terms of shape, size and the exact composition of the polymer. The pellets, which at the time were in round form, were to be produced as flat squares or rectangles, so that they are stackable as a dry good. Studies have been under way to prove that the pellets would float in fresh and salt water, how they would behaves in cold and heat conditions. The polymer-infused crude resembles thick jelly if the soap-sized tablets are cut open, and are designed to be much less flammable. If spilled into the ocean, the buoyant pellets can be retrieved by vacuuming them up. On land, they can be picked up by hand, or with machinery, CN said.

Success of CanaPux™will depend on whether oil-sands producers and refiners are willing to adopt the technology at a cost that is roughly equivalent to shipping bitumen with diluent, CN said. CanPux™is not viewed as a replacement for pipelines, but it could give oil-sands producers who lack pipeline access a new way to reach refineries in North America, Asia and other overseas markets.

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