Grant accelerates oilsands and marine oil-spill cleanup

LAB TOUR: Member of Parliament Randy Boissonnault meets members of the Advanced Water Research Lab.

(EDMONTON) On behalf of Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Member of Parliament Randy Boissonnault today announced a $600,000 grant to the University of Alberta’s Advanced Water Research Lab. The beneficiaries are principal investigator Mohtada Sadrzadeh and his team. This is part of a larger infusion of more than $1.5 million for two projects that fall under the government’s Oil Spill Response Science program. It is a four-year, $5-million program aimed at improving the technologies and techniques for recovering or removing heavy oil products from marine environments, a goal of which is to enhance the ability of Canada to deal with marine oil spills. And it’s in keeping with both the academic and the professional roles of an engineer.

“The major part of the engineer’s role in society is to protect the public,” said Dean Fraser Forbes in his opening remarks. “This funding gives us another important tool to protect our environment.”

Mohtada Sadrzadeh is travelling, so post-doc Behnam Khorshidi accepted the grant on his behalf. He talked to the assembled crowd about some of the work underway at the Advanced Water Research Lab, which involves cutting-edge development of high-performance nano-coated membranes and methods of water recycling and reuse.

“The best way I can explain it is that we are dealing with a dark, oily wastewater, developing nanocomposite membranes to separate the emulsified oil from water,” Khorshidi said. The goal is to develop an oil-and-water separation system that may eventually be deployed on a recovery boat, significantly reducing the cost and response time of a marine cleanup.

Along with the cleanup of oil spills, a second important application of this technology is the recycling of water used in oilsands processing, mitigating the need to use fresh water. The goal here would be to develop separation methods that could be used in-situ in processing bituminous oilsands. “These applications are both vital to protecting the environment,” he says. But you can’t separate the environment from the economy.

“Our oil and gas industry is an economic engine for our province—creating jobs, generating revenues and bringing new opportunities,” Boissonnault said. He called the investment in clean technology a driver of clean growth. And the techniques under development at the Advanced Water Research Lab aim to reduce water consumption in the oilsands, boost efficiency, and lower cost.

The team at the U of A is leading in research on advanced membrane material development, and the National Research Council grant will serve to boost and accelerate the momentum of current research, and open pathways to new investigations.

“The research programs in the lab contribute to the science of polymer and nanocomposite materials in various applications,” Khorshidi said. Aside from oil spills and oilsands water cleanup, other potential applications include desalination and wastewater treatment and other application in industries such as food and drug, dye and textile, and manufacturing industries.