Report 18

Report 18

REP 18

The Bituminous Sands of Alberta

Author(s) Clark, K.A. Date 1927-05-14

The bituminous sand studies of the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Alberta have been directed along three general lines. The deposits have been investigated in the field with respect to their accessibility, variability and other economic features. A process has been developed in the laboratory and in experimental plants for separating the bitumen from the sand. And tests have been made for demonstrating practical uses to which the separated bitumen may be put, particularly in connection with highway construction. The results of studies along the first two lines have been given in Parts I and II of this general report on the Bituminous Sands of Alberta. The present Part III contains the results of the remaining line of work. It is in the main, however, an economic study of the possibilities of the various ways of commercially developing the bituminous sands.

Few have doubted that the immense deposits of bituminous sand in Northern Alberta would, eventually, be turned to practical use and form the basis for industry. There has been considerable uncertainty, however, about the form that development would take. Various uses for the material have been recognized as possible. The raw bituminous sand can be used directly for the preparation of pavement aggregates. The bituminous content of the sands can be extracted and used either as an asphalt, principally for road construction of various types or as a crude oil for manufacture of petroleum products. But so long as these uses were all obviously matters of the future, there was little use of considering them in detail. Everything depended on the turn of events in the realm of economics during the period that had to elapse before bituminous sand development became a real possibility.

The general opinion has been that the use of the bituminous sand itself and of the bitumen extracted from it for pavement and bituminous highway construction would be the use that would first have sufficient practical application to warrant development. Use of the bituminous sand as a source of petroleum products, particularly gasoline, was regarded as a remote possibility. However, advances of great significance have been taking place in the technology of the petroleum industry and have changed the outlook in this latter direction. The conversion of heavy oils into high yields of gasoline is now a matter of every day commercial operations. There is no particular technical obstacle in the way of using the bitumen content of the bituminous sands as a crude oil and this use must be placed along with that of road materials for present consideration. Which offers the best opportunity for commercial development is a matter almost entirely of economics. It is consequently of importance to examine each possible use from this standpoint.

Uses for bituminous sand, which have been suggested as a basis for commercial development, are discussed in the pages that follow. The general background and present technical status of each is sketched and then the economic factors into which its employment must fit are considered. This treatment leads to the conclusion that the use of bitumen separated from the bituminous sands for gasoline manufacture is the application in sight which has sufficient possibilities to form a basis for an extensive bituminous sand industry, and that conditions in Western Canada are such as to make this application well worth serious consideration for the immediate future. Use of the separated bitumen as a road oil for rural road construction is rather disappointing on close examination. In spite of the large quantities of oil that will be used on the roads in the area in which the bitumen might compete, these quantities are nevertheless not large enough to allow of bituminous sand development on a sufficient scale for economical, low-cost operation. Use of the separated bitumen prepared in the form of asphalt emulsion for road and other construction work has better possibilities. In view of the fact that asphalt emulsions are coming into favour rapidly and that the bituminous sand deposit is about the only source for a domestic supply of asphalt for Western Canada, there is good prospect that there will be a large enough demand for emulsified bitumen to make economic and profitable bituminous sand development possible. Preparation of emulsion would be a simple and convenient way of inaugurating development work which would lead on to the larger and more alluring field of gasoline manufacture.

  • Theme Keywords
  • sand

Clark, K.A. and Blair, S.M. (1927): The bituminous sands of Alberta; Research Council of Alberta, RCA/AGS Report 18, 175 p.