Chemical Platforms and Advanced Bio-Based Products


Polysaccharide Modified Microparticles for Tailing Pond Clean-up

Michael Serpe (Department of Chemistry, U of A), Todd Lowary (Department of Chemistry, U of A), Victor Lieffers (Department of Renewable Resources, U of A), Institute for Oils Sands Innovation (IOSI) and Imperial Oil

Northern Alberta, home to one of the largest oil sand deposits in the world, has and continues to generate millions of liters of aqueous waste as a result of the process used to extract bitumen from the oil sands. The waste, which is stored in tailing ponds, has been under extreme scrutiny due to the potential leaking of the wastewater contaminants into the environment. Of major concern are naphthenic acids (NAs), which are a group of naturally occurring hydrophobic organic molecules that have been shown to be toxic to aquatic species, and possibly humans. Therefore, the removal of NAs from wastewater before it enters the tailing ponds is of extreme importance.

This project focuses on the development of a novel wastewater remediation system for the removal of NAs from aqueous solutions and tailing ponds. The system will utilize poly (Nisopropylacrylamide) (pNIPAm)-based porous microparticles modified with methyl mannose polysaccharides (MMPs). MMPs have been shown to have a high binding affinity for NAs, while pNIPAm-based microparticles have been shown to have a high binding affinity for organic molecules in general. These properties, combined with the ability of the microparticles to be packed into columns used in industry, make this an approach that could have a great impact in the oil sands and on the environment.

Development of an Industrial Process for Bio-Nonanal Production from Plant Oils Using Reductive Ozonolysis

Jonathan Curtis (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A; Director of the Lipid Chemistry Group)

The use of vegetable oils for industrial applications is well established in areas such as the production of surfactants, cosmetics and many personal care items, and in biodiesel production. There was a considerable amount of research in the 1950's and 60's into the use of vegetable oils as feedstocks for producing other chemicals of value to industry. Examples of these include volatile aldehydes and diacids for polymer manufacture. With the current surge of interest in green chemistry and in producing chemicals and materials from renewable sources, there is an opportunity to replace petroleum-derived chemicals with bio-based chemicals. However, products must be made in a cost competitive manner, which is certainly possible for the more valuable chemicals, such as those used in the flavour and fragrance industries. This project is such an opportunity for the production of bio-based aldehydes from canola oil.

Novel Flocculant System for Densification of Oil Sands Tailings

David Bressler (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A)

In the Fort McMurray region of Northern Alberta, Canada, mine tailings resulting from the extraction of bitumen using the Clark Hot Water Extraction process are accumulated in settling basins. When the tailings stream reaches the pond, the heaviest fraction, which is primarily composed of sand, settles quickly while the aqueous fraction rises to the top. A middle layer, conventionally defined Mature Fine Tailings (MFT), comprising a mixture of fine solid particles (clay and other minerals) and suspended hydrocarbons, forms a stable dispersion that is known to persist for decades. As of 2009, the Government of Alberta estimated that over 800 million m3 of MFT are deployed in tailing ponds affecting a total surface area exceeding 130 Km2. Over thirty oil sands tailings treatment technologies have been developed since the inception of bitumen extraction on a commercial scale. Despite these efforts, a low-cost and environmentally benign technology that guarantees trafficable solid phases post tailings densification remains elusive. The aim of this project is to refine and accelerate the development of a novel technology to consolidate MFT using a on non-toxic chemical amendment based on renewable materials from agricultural biomass.

Novel Hydrophobic and Hydrophillic Value-Added Compounds from Lignocellulosic Biomass Using Subcritical Fluid Technology for Industrial Applications

Marleny Saldaña (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A), Thava Vasanthan (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A)

The proposed research will obtain value-added compounds from lignocellulosic biomass using subcritical fluid technology. Currently, this green technology is being investigated in the Saldaña laboratory for processing of grain and tuber industry by-products. Findings in relation to biofilm formation from potato peel and barley husk have been successful and intellectual property protection has been initiated (US provisional patent application filed). Furthermore, investigations in relation to fractionation of crop industry lignocellulosic biomass into value-added products yielded preliminary promising results (US provisional patent application filed). This research will further process the above mentioned lignocellulosic biomass into a new generation of hydrophobic and hydrophyllic value-added compounds for applications in the health care and cosmetic industries. Benefits to the Alberta agri-food industry will be to provide a strategy for better utilization of lignocellulosic biomass to recover value-added compounds with tangible industrial applications.

Efficient Conversion of Biodiesel Glycerin to Value-Added Chemicals

Paul Tiege (Olds College Center for Innovation, Olds College)

This proposed initiative is a small, ten month project to evaluate the commercial viability of conversion of biodiesel-derived glycerin to useful, value-added products. The project will evaluate the economic and technological potential and freedom-to-operate landscape of high value conversion strategies, and will be staged into parts. First, a literature and patent database review will be undertaken to map known synthesis routes and identify best potential manufacturing strategies. Second, a shortlist will be created of those that have clear potential for adaptation to commercial production in Alberta. Third, a freedom-to-operate search will be completed. One or two conversion strategies with high commercial potential and clear freedom-to-operate will be selected. Fourth, laboratory studies will verify potential synthetic routes and subsequently optimize the most promising method(s). A final report will discuss the potential for glycerin conversion as an integral part of Alberta’s growing bioeconomy.