Institute for Oil Sands Innovation (IOSI)


After a century of research, and as 2017 and the 50th anniversary of the first large-scale oil sands operation approaches, the Institute for Oil Sands Innovation (IOSI) is well-positioned to lead oil sands technology into a new era of dramatic improvements.

As the second century of oil sands research begins, IOSI aims to deliver breakthrough technology that will ensure that extraction and upgrading processes contribute fully to social, economic and environmental excellence ― now, and for future generations. The key will be ― as stated in the IOSI Vision ― “to develop oil sands operations that use little or no water, consume less energy, generate lower greenhouse gas emissions and yield high-quality products at lower costs.”

The University of Alberta is the nearest major research institution to Alberta’s three oil sands deposits, and its proximity has made it the leader in oil sands research. The basic extraction method used in the industry, the Clark’s hot water process, was developed by Dr. Karl Clark at the Alberta Research Council and the University of Alberta; from its development to its deployment in a fully operational program took over 30 years. Such historical and long-term relationships enable IOSI to advance oil sands technology to make possible long-term sustainable development.

The IOSI Recipe

The Institute brings together experienced practitioners from industry with new and seasoned researchers from around the world. Regular workshops are conducted where these participants identify industry needs and gaps in the current science and engineering. Such workshops serve as springboards to new projects which IOSI assists by providing:

  • Funding
  • Research Facilities
  • Partnership with experienced researchers from industry, academia, and government laboratories

Simply put: IOSI gathers a lot of bright people and encourages them to think up interesting and innovative ideas to improve oil sands technology and then helps them test those ideas in experiments.

Four Research Themes

IOSI’s main areas of research are divided into four themes with the intent of reducing the industry’s environmental footprint by: sharply reducing water use; reducing the amount of energy used in making fuel; and improving tailings management.

From a practical standpoint, scaling up from the IOSI laboratory experiments can take a number of years, but the long-term vision of the Institute is to achieve an oil sands production facility of the future that ― uses little or no water, less energy, occupies less area, integrates upgrading operations and costs less to build and operate. To do so, IOSI focuses on four areas of research:

  1. Extraction
  2. Online Instrumentation for Oilsands
  3. Product Cleaning and Partial Upgrading
  4. Tailings Process Fundamentals