Controlling the oilsands

The Challenge:

Current technologies in oilsands processing—from mining to extraction to upgrading of bitumen—require precision to maximize oil recovery and minimize waste and environmental impact. The industry faces daily challenges in ensuring the technology used to monitor and control these processes are striking the right balance. Sensors that provide information like flow rates, temperature, concentration, and density inside pipes or vessels, for example, are subject to hostile conditions, become fouled and unreliable.

The Approach:

Biao Huang, a professor in the U of A Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, is an internationally respected expert in process control engineering. Huang and his research team are using an inferential algorithm that enables oilsands producers to get greater precision and control over these processes, use existing technologies. Rather than develop new sensor technology or install and maintain new sensors, Huang and his team are working on ways to use known information from existing sensors to make accurate decisions about unknowns.


“The oilsands are a very valuable resource to Canada. We want to be sure that they are operated in a sustainable way and that the industry’s environmental impact is minimized. Control systems play an important part in this,” said Huang. “Even if we can improve recovery by 0.1 per cent, the impact would transfer to millions of dollars per year.”

Biao Huang

Department of Chemical & Materials Engineering

NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Control of Oil Sands Processes