2 Minutes with Jacob Masliyah
February 7, 2012
Dr. Jacob Masliyah has spent decades bringing science-based approaches to the operations of oil sands companies. Canadian oil sands are unconsolidated sand deposits that are impregnated with heavy, viscous petroleum, referred to as bitumen. Nearly 20 percent of the deposits can be recovered by mining operations, and the rest by in situ operations. As we gain further fundamental understanding of these industrial processes, we are able to continue to reduce the economic and environmental impacts of bitumen extraction.
I did my undergraduate in Brazil. And after my undergraduate I really wanted to go somewhere exciting, somewhere it's secure for me. And Canada was the ideal place. And then I came to Alberta, and I really fell into oil sand by sheer coincidence. But I was very fortunate because the industry was growing at the time, in the late seventies, and they wanted new ideas to be generated within the university in cooperation with the industry. So bit by bit, we grew together.
Our research is trying to understand the art of oil sands processing and to make into science. By understanding the science, we can improve on the process in terms of having higher bitumen recovery and lower impact on the environment. We discovered the importance of temperature in processing the oil sand. We found that there's a critical temperature one should not go below. We put prototype to new equipment. We also improved on the recovery of oil by showing how chemical addition can improve the recovery and in the water management as well.
In my view, it's only through basic science – absolute competent, basic science – we can resolve the challenges the industry is meeting. And without the basic science, I don't think the industry can progress the way they would like to progress. The partnership between NSERC and the university and the industry is extremely important. Without one of these parts, we cannot proceed with our research. Each plays a very important role: from NSERC we get the funding; from the industry you get the funding and as well as the issues they are encountering day by day. Can we take these issues, these challenges to the university, try to analyze them, try to find from fundamental point of view why they're occurring, solve them, resolve them, give it back to the industry, and they can make use of.