A recent study conducted by the University of Alberta, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was published in the Journal of Environmental Engineering, which showcased the use of Cypher’s UltraZyme Hydrocarbon product to remediate oil sands tailings. Oil sands consist of a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen, and in Canada the deposits that are the largest and most widely developed are known as the Athabasca Oil Sands. Although the most technologically advanced processes in the world are used to extract these Oil Sands deposits, there remains an accumulation of 1,075 million m^3 of tailings – enough to fill 430,000 Olympic sized swimming pools! The research conducted by the U of A using UltraZyme has shown promising advances in the steps being taken to improve the processes involved in the remediation and recycling of these tailings.
The tailings being generated by the Athabasca Oil Sands can be generally grouped into two categories, fresh tailings and mature tailings, both of which can take decades or even centuries to dewater. This is the major cause for the massive accumulation of tailings in the region, and is the primary driver of the current research being conducted which is to dewater these tailings more rapidly. The research showed tremendous results using UltraZyme, with a 30% increase in solids content by the process of dewatering. Additionally, the research also measured a significant detoxification of expressed pore water while improving dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and naphthenic acids removal.
While the UltraZyme line of products are traditionally used for a variety of wastewater treatment applications, the use to remediate oil sands tailings is a new endeavor for the company. With the significant results that have been achieved, and the possibility for the product to help the industry cope with the growing issues caused by the growing accumulation of tailings, further investment in research will be conducted to gain more insight into the benefits of introducing UltraZyme to this process. Cypher has already had great successes in helping to reduce the operational costs and environmental footprint of haul roads in the Athabasca oil sands (https://www.cypherenvironmental.com/2016/11/01/earthzyme-alleviates-gravel-shortage-for-syncrude/), and hopes to contribute the same to the way the industry treats their tailings deposits. A special thanks to Xiaoxuan Yu, Yan Cao, Raymund Sampaga, Samuel Rybiak, and Dr. Ania C. Ulrich from the University of Alberta for their great contributions to this research, and shared vision to help reduce the environmental footprint in the Athabasca Oil Sands.