University of Calgary

Helping to green the oil and gas sector

UToday HomeMay 2, 2012

Viola Birss, the scientific co-director of the SOFC Canada NSERC Research Network that is hubbed on campus, presented some of the network’s research breakthroughs during a recent industry day. Photo by Shay Dodds of ShayDodds PhotographyViola Birss, the scientific co-director of the SOFC Canada NSERC Research Network that is hubbed on campus, presented some of the network’s research breakthroughs during a recent industry day. Photo by Shay Dodds of ShayDodds PhotographyRepresentatives of more than 20 oil and gas companies came out to hear more about Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) technology at SOFC Canada’s first-ever ‘Industry Day’ at the Petroleum Club recently.

SOFCs can produce electricity directly from a variety of hydrocarbon fuel sources without burning them. Instead, the technology (so named because of the solid ceramic material at the centre of the device) electrochemically oxidizes the fuel.

More than 40 people attended the recent industry day called ‘Helping to Green the Oil and Gas Sector.’ “There were 22 different companies from the oil and gas sector there,” says Sharon Thomas, managing director of SOFC Canada, who organized the event with Viola Birss, the scientific co-director of the SOFC Canada NSERC Research Network.

“We had five different government agencies as well as four different university institutes and networks represented,” says Thomas. There was a lot of interest and many questions about the technology, which offers both short term and longer term benefits.

“Within the next five years, the technology will be to the point where it could offer very clean power at very high efficiencies in the oil and gas sector, including in remote sites,” she says. “It could be used to power the equipment, keeping cell phones working and providing local heat and electricity.”

In the longer term, Thomas says there is potential for a number of different uses for SOFCs in the oil and gas sector. “Solid oxide fuel cells are highly efficient and produce very high grade usable heat and steam, and steam is essential in the oil and gas sector for getting the product out of the ground,” she says. SOFCs may also potentially work underground at in situ oil sands sites in the future.

SOFC also produce carbon dioxide, but unlike when hydrocarbons are burned, SOFC CO2 emissions are already separated from air, which could save industry significant costs in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. “If they’re trying to reduce their carbon footprint, then they must separate carbon dioxide from the air, which is very costly. This separation step is not required with SOFCs, because it’s already separated,” she says. “There would be a significant cost saving if they were to use SOFCs in this way.”

Thomas says that the team that organized the Industry Day will be holding individual meetings with people who attended the event to follow up on how SOFC technology could be of use in their oil and gas operations.

Read more about SOFC role in industry at ISEEE’s website.