University of Calgary

International chemistry research group tackles ways to minimize impact of heavy oil

UToday HomeMay 8, 2013

By Marie-Helene Thibeault

Professors Pedro Pereira from the Faculty of Engineering, Helio Duarte from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Patrizia Calaminici from Cinvestav (Mexico), Andreas Köster and Dennis Salahub from the Faculty of Science.Professors Pedro Pereira from the Faculty of Engineering, Helio Duarte from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Patrizia Calaminici and Andreas Köster from Cinvestav (Mexico), and Dennis Salahub from the Faculty of Science.

The environmental challenges posed by the oil sands are well known and a pan-American research group of chemistry experts is exploring solutions.

Among those leading the way in tackling this topic are University of Calgary professors Pedro Pereira from the Faculty of Engineering and Dennis Salahub from the Faculty of Science.

The pair hosted peers from Interamerican Collaboration in Materials Research (CIAM) for the fifth annual workshop in April. CIAM is a joint program between the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the National Council for Science and Technology (Mexico) and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (Brazil).

The collaborative project concerns developing multi-scale computational materials design, namely nano-catalysts, for field or in-situ upgrading.

Catalysts are substances that accelerate the rate of chemical reactions and the yield of products of interest, thus reducing the energy needed for the process. This is of particular interest for the exploitation of oil sands given their energy-intensive process.

To move their research agenda forward, the computational groups develop new methodologies that combine quantum mechanics with molecular dynamics in order to model chemical reactions in the complex environments involved in upgrading of the oil sands in collaboration with the experimental group of professor Pereira.

International guests who attended this year’s workshop and shared their findings include professors Andreas Köster and Patrizia Calaminici from Cinvestav, Mexico, and professor Helio Duarte from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“By applying modern computational science to models on nano-catalyzed upgrading reactions, we can understand their mechanisms including the influence of the sand and hydrocarbon surroundings at operating temperature and pressure,” explains professor Pereira.

“By varying the nature of the catalysts including their composition and size, we hope to deliver computational work that will contribute to the design and optimization of much better catalysts,” concludes professor Pereira, who holds an Industrial Research Chair on Catalysts for Bitumen Upgrading supported by NSERC, NEXEN and Alberta Innovates-Energy and Environment Solutions.

“CIAM is a fine example of interdisciplinary research at its best,” admits professor Salahub who is also a contributing member to the University of Calgary’s Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology and Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy of which Pereira is also a Fellow.

“It is highly stimulating to bring fundamental research to bear on a problem of great importance for a sustainable source of energy and with economic benefits for Alberta and Canada,” he adds.

 

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