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Refining Oil Sands Processing: Catalyst Developed by U of S Researchers Is Better for Environment

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lana Haight, B.J. | Communications Coordinator
Canadian Light Source Inc. 

Using the Canadian Light Source, a chemical engineering team at the University of Saskatchewan has found a possible pathway to reduce production costs and improve environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands industry.

Post-doctoral fellow Dr. Sandeep Badoga and his supervisor, U of S chemical engineering professor Dr. Ajay Dalai, have developed a catalyst—a substance that increases the rate of chemical reactions— with improved capacity to remove sulphur and nitrogen during the hydrotreating process which turns bitumen into a synthetic heavy oil. Their findings were published in the industry journal, Fuel Processing Technology.

Raw bitumen can contain as much as 40,000 parts per million (ppm) sulphur and 4,000 ppm nitrogen, which poses a challenge for refiners.

Dr. Badoga says the U of S catalyst lowered sulphur content to 1,000 ppm, a 230 per cent improvement over current industry catalysts. The team’s process improved nitrogen removal by about 30 per cent.

“Advancements in technology to remove large amounts of sulphur at low cost will improve industry profit margins,” Dr. Badoga said. “This will keep bitumen-based fuels competitive in today’s market.”

Drs. Badoga and Dalai discuss the operation of the high pressure catalytic fixed bed reactor for petroleum research.

Analytical tools at the CLS helped the researchers see how their catalyst performed and also helped them determine the dispersion of active metal on the support material as well as the electronic state and structure of the active metals.

Dr. Dalai began his work at the U of S in 1996 and now holds the Canada Research Chair in Bio-energy and Environmental Friendly Chemical Processing. He says the Canadian Light Source will remain a critical tool in furthering the 20-year research relationship that his team has built with industry players, including Syncrude Canada Ltd.


Badoga, Sandeep, Ajay K. Dalai, John Adjaye, Yongfeng Hu. “Insights into individual and combined effects of phosphorus and EDTA on performance of NiMo/MesoAl2O3 catalyst for hydrotreating of heavy gas oil.” Fuel Processing Technology (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.fuproc.2017.01.034.