Success story

Raising the bar for tailings treatment

With 1.4 billion m3 of oil sands tailings stored in tailings ponds by the end of 2019, Canadian oil sands operators are constantly seeking ways to increase the volume of tailings they can treat. A key player in this highly competitive and tightly regulated industry was able to do just that with a new chemical solution developed in partnership with Kemira, who also provided logistical support and process expertise to help them continuously refine their operations.

Raising the bar for tailings treatment

To fulfill their sustainability goals, one of Kemira’s customers needed to treat significantly larger volumes of tailings, which meant rethinking the overall process. While developing this treatment, they found that the flocculants they were using weren’t able to address the dual emphasis of fast dewatering and generating cleaner wastewater. They also needed to generate cleaner wastewater in order to meet increasingly strict environmental targets aimed at helping the reclaimed land to flourish as an ecosystem once the site reaches the end of its life. In 2016, Kemira started a project with the client, supporting them in developing this new treatment by introducing an improved, specially developed polymer alongside inorganic coagulants that would help meet the quality requirements set for the recovered water, at a treatment rate that would reduce their tailings inventory.

Our customers benefit from our commitment to develop solutions that help them satisfy their environmental goals.

Full-chain support while meeting tough targets

“One key challenge for our customer is the sheer scale of their operations, and they’ve been supported by Kemira through the management of product development, manufacture, storage, and transport, alongside continuous improvements to the treatment process,” Sukhjit Aujla, Vice President, Commercial Development, Oil & Gas explains. “While necessary environmentally, processing tailings represents a cost to operators. They benefit from our commitment to proactively develop solutions that help them satisfy their environmental goals while also enhancing their operational efficiency,” he concludes.

In order to provide the needed support in the remote location while being responsive to changeable conditions, it became clear that Kemira needed to move its operations closer to the client in Fort McMurray, Alberta. “Once there, we built one of the world’s largest polymer hydration facilities, which is capable of hydrating 75,000 metric tons of dried polyacrylamide powder annually,” Sukhjit highlights.

Our expertise and support offer an opportunity for the operator to make a positive contribution to this constantly evolving industry.

Continuous improvement for the common good

Beyond chemistry, the customer benefits from boots-on-the-ground expertise that helps solve the unexpected twists and turns that can arise on a daily basis when implementing a new process. “Our field services team are onsite day in, day out, gaining an in-depth understanding of our customers’ processes and challenges,” explains Sukhjit. “Their feedback is invaluable in helping us proactively develop and adjust our solutions, as well as flag up any potential pain points before they occur.”

And Kemira’s contribution doesn’t stop there, as Erica Pin, Director, Business Development, Industry & Water, points out: “Our client receives a full-service engineering and equipment support solution and chemical logistics management on a massive scale”. Fully outsourcing the inventory management of the new treatment has offered improved efficiency and cost effectiveness for the client, but the benefits of this partnership have wider implications. “As well as helping them achieve their own goals, our expertise and support also offer an opportunity for the operator to make a hugely positive contribution to this constantly evolving industry by developing a new best practice,” Erica explains.

The oil sands mining operators are actively working on multiple innovation projects that aim to improve their environmental performance and sustainability. As the leading polymer and coagulant supplier to the oil sands, Kemira is well positioned to support our clients as they develop and implement their technologies.

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