A Canada National Railway Co. train in Alberta.
/ A Canada National Train Co. train in Alberta.


The Canada National Train Business (CN) has actually invested years establishing an item called CanaPux, in which thick bitumen petroleum from Canada’s oil sands is combined with a polymer to end up being a strong puck that can be carried with little worry of spills or fires. When the pucks reach their location, the polymer is separated from the oil and can be returned to the processing plant for reuse.

Now, CN Developments, the branch of CN that established CanaPux, has actually discovered 2 partnering groups that have an interest in structure production plants to establish the pucks. One is a Chinese group looking for to export bitumen (the name for the low-grade heavy oil discovered in Canadian oil sands) to China, the other is a Canadian group wishing to export the things to South Korea and India, to name a few nations. The Canadian group in specific has actually been concentrating on exporting bitumen for non-combustion functions: heavy oil like bitumen is frequently utilized to pave and water resistant roofings, according to James Auld, the task lead for CanaPux at CN.

Auld informed Ars on Monday that a 10,000 barrel-a-day CanaPux production plant would cost about CAN$50 million (US$376 million) to develop, not consisting of a center at the other end of the transport chain that would de-polymerize the briquettes of oil. The 2 groups aiming to develop CanaPux plants are considering plants that might process in between 10,000 and 50,000 barrels each day.

Why would a business invest cash to make a puck?

The financial case for CanaPux isn’t apparent. However Auld stated that bitumen’s special residential or commercial properties make the case more engaging. Initially, to send out bitumen through a pipeline, a diluent to make the bitumen circulation more quickly should be included, which diluent is frequently 30 percent or more of the volume taking a trip through the pipeline. That suggests less volume for transferring the oil manufacturer’s item. Rather, Auld states that CanaPux can be made with just 10 percent of each puck being polymer additive.

Nevertheless, Auld worried that CanaPux aren’t looking for to finish with oil moving through pipelines. After all, CN is a train business, and moving bitumen by train frequently enables manufacturers to fill their bitumen into unique vehicles that need no diluent. However if manufacturers wish to later on export that oil overseas, they do need to include a diluent at that point to get the bitumen onto ships. On trains, “we have no flammability concerns and we’re moving closer to 100 percent item, however the issue for us isn’t truly getting to the United States Gulf Coast,” Auld stated. “If you wish to export west or east of Canada you can’t do that.” According to Auld, there are no terminals on either Canadian coast that permit diluent-filled bitumen to be filled onto oil tankers.

In addition, heating aspects are frequently required on rail vehicles that transfer bitumen in Canada.

However if the bitumen remains in puck type, things are a bit simpler. Auld stated CN can transfer pucks in a light aluminum gondola vehicle, generally booked for coal transport (which is most likely to die as Canada stages out coal-fired electrical power plants by 2030 and prospective export partners do the same). Gondola vehicles hold more item, do not have heating aspects, and strong oil can be unloaded at existing Canadian ports. Then, all that’s left is reconstituting the oil on the other side.

That stated, Auld was specific that a service like CanaPux most likely would not work for anything however the heaviest of crudes. “The much heavier your petroleum is, the less polymer you require [to make CanaPux] and the more diluent you require” to send out that oil through a pipeline, Auld stated. In those particular cases, the economics prefer CanaPux. Lighter crudes, on the other hand, circulation through pipelines a lot easier and would require a lot more polymer additive to be made into strong type.

An ecological case

A prototype version of CanaPux. It looks like a chocolate pudding cup. Put them in your kids' lunches!

A model variation of CanaPux. It appears like a chocolate pudding cup. Put them in your kids’ lunches!

CN Developments

Obviously, oil is a nonrenewable fuel source, and burning it will continue to add to carbon emissions that are currently threatening our world. However Auld stated that, although need for coal and oil for combustion is most likely to drop, “we’re going to need heavy, heavy bitumen, specifically for non-combustion functions. We’re constantly going to pave roadways, and so on”

In addition, as long as oil transport isn’t made outdated, the environment along those paths will be at danger. One pledge of CanaPux is that it might decrease ecological issues, specifically at export terminals.

In pipelines and at export terminals, the diluent utilized to move bitumen is frequently very combustible, and since it’s suggested to move oil, if there’s a leakage or a mishap, the diluent winds up moving over a larger location in the environment than the oil itself would.

A 2012 New York City Times post explains a pipeline failure over the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in2010 As the diluent-filled bitumen dripped into the river, “it started separating into its constituent parts. The heavy bitumen sank to the river bottom, leaving a mess that is still being tidied up. On the other hand, the chemical ingredients vaporized, producing a nasty odor that stuck around for days. Individuals reported headaches, lightheadedness and queasiness.”

CanaPux, by contrast, drifts on water and can be gotten by hand (or shovel) if a gondola vehicle gets hindered. Delicate ocean environments are likewise at less danger of spillage and fire if a tanker bring the item stops working.

The polymer that strengthens the bitumen can likewise be recycled, which lowers waste. The pucks do not liquify in water and do not launch any dust as they are carried (something that thermal coal frequently does, in spite of train efforts to decrease coal dust by packing it a particular method and spraying ” glue-like polymer” on the coal).

All these things bode well for the future of CanaPux, in spite of the long preparation the task has actually had at CN Developments. Part of that is since the use-case is so narrow. “This is a far more specific niche kind of thing,” Auld informed Ars. It uses just to heavy crude that requires to be exported from Canada. However for that case, CN believes it can decrease spill catastrophes in a financially engaging method.

Noting image by CN