A Long-Term Integrated Assessment of Cost, Water Consumption, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of a Transition to a Low-Carbon Bitumen and Hydrogen Production

  • Author / Creator
    Moraes Coraca, Gustavo
  • The growing demand for energy and the need for mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has led to increased interest from government, industry, and academia in the development of new low-carbon technologies for bitumen extraction and hydrogen production. In situ bitumen is a major contributor to Canada's economy. Hydrogen has the potential to play a critical role in the transition to a low-carbon economy. The production of these two important energy sources comes with significant environmental impacts related to GHG emissions and water consumption. While low-carbon technologies offer a promising solution to mitigate carbon emissions, there is a critical knowledge gap regarding their potential impacts on water. This research aims to investigate the environmental footprints related to water consumption, GHG emissions, and associated cost impacts with the adoption of new low-carbon technologies for bitumen extraction and hydrogen production.
    Bitumen production from the Canadian oil sands made up 5.3% of the country’s GDP in 2020. Canada exports 76% of the crude oil produced, and 97% of this is recovered in the oil sands. In the next 25 years, bitumen production is expected to increase by 2.5 million cubic meters per day because of expansions of in situ bitumen recovery projects. The oil sands sector is a significant emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), accounting for 11.3% of Canada’s GHG emissions; therefore, advancing low-carbon oil sands extraction technologies is critical. While many strategies to mitigate GHG emissions from the oil sands sector have been proposed, there are few assessments of associated water-use impacts. To fill this knowledge gap, this research builds on a novel data-intensive and technology-specific model of the in situ bitumen extraction sector in Canada developed to determine the long-term water and GHG footprints of the penetration of emerging low-carbon oil sands recovery technologies. The market penetration of seven novel low-carbon and three conventional in situ bitumen extraction techniques through four different technology mix scenarios between 2020 and 2050 were considered. The results show maximum water savings and GHG abatement potential in 2050 of 7% and 17%, respectively, at a $59/m3 water savings cost and a $32/tCO2e GHG abatement cost at a scenario of high carbon tax. Total water consumption and GHG emissions are projected to reach 43.8 million cubic meters and 49.9 million tonnes in 2050 under the scenario that best reduces water use and emissions. Although freshwater use from in situ recovery is low – 0.05% of the Athabasca River flow – projected annual emissions from the oil sands industry are significant, thus further efforts are needed to meet Canada’s net-zero emissions target by 2050.
    Hydrogen-based greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation strategies can have multi-sector benefits and are considered necessary to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
    Assessments of hydrogen scale-up have not included long-term implications for water resources. This work aims to fill this knowledge gap through a long-term integrated assessment of the water consumption, GHG emissions, and costs of conventional and low-carbon hydrogen scenarios to the year 2050. 120 long-term scenarios were developed for the large-scale deployment of low-carbon hydrogen in a prospective hydrogen-intensive economy (Alberta, Canada) and the economic impacts in terms of marginal abatement costs were determined. This study considered 15 different natural gas- and electrolysis-based hydrogen production technologies. The results obtained project a cumulative mitigation of 9 to 162 million tonnes of carbon emissions between 2026 and 2050 through the implementation of low-carbon hydrogen production scenarios compared to the business-as-usual scenario. However, cumulative water consumption increases considerably with the large-scale deployment of low-carbon hydrogen, reaching 8 to 3,815 million cubic meters. The adoption of green hydrogen technologies increases water consumption significantly. Depending on the jurisdiction of analysis and its water bodies, this increase may or may not be a long-term issue. Alberta’s available water resources are sufficient to provide water to drive low-carbon hydrogen deployment while also providing water for other economic and social activities. Low-carbon hydrogen scenarios start becoming cost-effective as the carbon price rises to $170/tCO2e. The long-term water consumption projections add valuable information to the existing body of literature by providing details on the potential impacts on water resources associated with the implementation of low-carbon hydrogen.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2023
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.