Current oilsands mining operations use hot water to help separate bitumen from the soil, creating ponds of toxic tailings. The challenges faced by industry is to find ways to remove impurities from the tailings so the water can be recycled for other oilsands uses or discharged into the environment safely.
Mohamed Gamal El-Din, a professor in the U of A Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is taking a multidisciplinary approach to detoxifying oilsands tailings water, working with biologists and chemists to assess the impact tailings water has on organisms, and drawing on more than 20 years of experience researching water and wastewater treatment. He and his team are investigating multi-barrier strategies that include the application of chemical and biological treatments to clean oilsands process-affected water.
Mining companies across the resource sector face the challenge of cleaning up tailings—the major oilsands players in northern Alberta are working to resolve the issue. With one of the world’s largest oil reserves at our feet, it is urgent that new ways are developed to dramatically reduce industry’s impact on the environment.