While the economic benefits to oil sands development are evident, sustainable development of this valuable Canadian resource requires that the costs of oil extraction as well as environmental consequences be minimized. Over the last decade, due to the global demand, the oil sands industry has undergone an unprecedented development accompanied by a significant increase of production costs. Market reality requires strategic oil sands development and calls for reduction of operation costs. However, the search for solutions to the sustainable oil sands development (e.g. water use, greenhouse gas emissions, tailings) has focused on the processes that make up the oil sands operation. We propose to take a different approach by focusing on the systems that control these processes. Process control systems are critical because they allow for steady and safe process operations, efficient production, consistent product quality, less waste, and better control of emissions.
Achieving better process control in the oil sands industry is not simply a matter of importing technologies from other industries. Control systems in the oil sands industry face unique challenges. The renewed NSERC-Industry Research Chair in Control of Oil Sands Processes is aimed at developing solutions that will lead to innovative estimation, monitoring and data-mining technologies in addition to supporting and improving the established solutions for the industry. Specifically, solutions for sensors, process safety and optimal operation are proposed. These practical solutions are backed by sound fundamental research. Through the IRC program, we will also extend the breadth and depth of Canada's oil sands expertise by creating a pool of highly trained engineers in process systems engineering and control. Our integrated program will enable collaboration with industry to convert research outcomes into implemented solutions, and train highly qualified personnel with excellent job prospects. As a result, Canada will be well-positioned to meet its future industry needs.
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