Managing energy use to lower greenhouse gases

If Chris Austin had his way, Syncrude’s production engineers and operators would start their shift by asking, “How can I save my weight in emissions today?”

And then they would access the tool Chris developed to show the most current data related to production versus energy use throughout the operation.

Using his logic, if the average person weighs 80 kilograms and they thought this way every day, it would take less than a month to reach Syncrude’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets for the next 10 years. “Obviously it is not that easy,” says Chris. “But the more people find small things and recover them early, the more they add up.”

As examples, Chris says that one gallon per minute of condensate recovered is equivalent to 90 kilograms of CO2 emissions based on the heat. If you turn off 10 – 100 Watt light bulbs, that’s 88 kilograms per day of CO2.

The tool is designed to look at the big stuff, but everyone can contribute.

– Chris Austin

Chris, Senior Technical Specialist in Utilities, is talking about the GHG Emissions Tracking Tool he created and Syncrude has been applying since last April.

“The tool was initially developed to be in line with monthly corporate reporting on greenhouse gas emissions intensity,” says Chris. “But because it uses daily data inputs, we can use it to make decisions about energy use every day and influence a reduction in emissions in the moment.”

Syncrude’s plan to reduce GHG emissions is tied to annual Business Plan production targets and employee compensation.

“The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through reliability improvements, energy reductions, and increased production,” says Sol Cifuentes, GHG Program Lead.

Production is a key word. When production rates are high in the Upgrader, it can produce up to 75 per cent of the total energy needed to produce heat for bitumen recovery. When production is low, the GHG Emissions Tracking Tool highlights specific opportunities to turn down energy demand to match production. Ultimately, we want to produce the most synthetic crude oil using the least amount of energy throughout the process of converting oil sand to oil.

At a glance, the tool shows teams what is happening with energy usage and areas that need a closer look. If an area is showing green or yellow, it’s okay. When it shows red, there is work to do. And the tool is evolving.

Syncrude’s cogeneration facilities produce low carbon power to operate the Upgrader and any excess is exported to the Alberta electric grid.

– Sol Cifuentes

“Chris will be adding a power component to the GHG Emissions Tracking Tool that will highlight yellow or red when there are opportunities to make power with a lower carbon footprint depending on what is happening at site that day.”

Chris explains that the tool is designed to be a compass to help people determine what direction to take when it comes to production and energy. For example, when production rates are down, not as much energy is needed. “Sometimes production isn’t even close to matching the energy being generated,” he says. “So when production rates are reduced, the turn down capability, including the speed of turn down is important to reduce emissions. There has been a huge improvement in our turn down capability.”

Syncrude’s ability to turn down energy when the demand is low has helped reduce overall emissions per barrel. This chart shows production and emissions intensity from 2019 compared to 2020 with the trend being – on average – lower emissions intensity overall

Sometimes little things create big results. Thanks to the GHG Emissions Tracking Tool, operators found opportunities to reduce the amount of heated water needed to match production in the third quarter versus the same time in 2019.

It’s changing the way people think about the energy we use. Information is made available daily, and Chris reviews it with Operations on a weekly basis. It all contributes to a better understanding of energy use on site and what can be done to manage it while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Giving people absolute numbers helps them understand what they need to do to manage energy,” says Chris. “When they ask, ‘What can I do today? How can I reduce CO2 emissions by 1,000 tonnes today?’ we give them numbers they can work with every day.”

There is more collaboration between business units as they learn about the tool, and their conversations support different ways to use less energy during production to move the plant towards higher efficiency.

Rather than working in silos, they can work together to come up with what emissions can be reduced.

Tracking production volumes for energy reduction opportunities, combined with an ongoing focus on reliability, promotes Syncrude’s goal of being more carbon efficient while lowering expenses related to greenhouse gases.

Engagement matters, and the actions of many, even just a little bit, can outweigh the actions of a few.

– Chris Austin

Learn more about our Climate Change Strategy.

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