Liquid salts could reduce water needs for oil sands

With the growing development of unconventional oil reserves, many companies are investing in new alternatives to access resources like oil sands more readily. The New York Times reports that one American professor believes he has developed an unusual, but highly appealing possibility.

The current industry standard for accessing deeper deposits of oil sands is to blast massive amounts of steam into the sands, continually heating and loosening the material. But this process generally proves inefficient in terms of energy and results in excessive greenhouse gas production, while also using substantial amounts of water.

Other methods include putting a minimal amount of water in with two electrodes on either side of a well. The current between these two heats the material with substantially less energy. Another method ignites heavier, less useful portions of the deposit, heating the lighter oil that requires less refining.

However, professor Paul Painter, a polymer scientists at Pennsylvania State University, suggests that oil development might benefit from the use of so-called ionic fluids, salts that become liquid at lower levels. Painter has used these fluids to effectively separate materials and he believes their use could drastically reduce water needs for oil well.

The Calgary Herald reports that water use within the oil sands industry has been a hot topic, with strong criticism aimed at the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program.

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