Higher world oil prices have made the Canadian energy and resource sector attractive to foreign investment from China and India. The growing demand for Canadian oil has demanded that new ideas be developed so as to reduce the energy and costs involved in extracting oil from the tarsands. Some 20% of Western Canadian natural gas is presently used in boilers to generate steam that is pumped into the frigid tarsands so as to release heated oil from the tarsands. That percentage could more than double within a decade. One oil company is presently testing a method where a small percentage of the oil that is still in the tarsands would be slowly ignited in order to heat the surrounding tarsands and enable heated oil to flow to the surface.
A second oil company has proposed to use nuclear energy instead of natural gas to raise steam that will be pumped into the ground to release the oil. Rich deposits of uranium ore that can be processed into fuel for nuclear power stations are found at several locations across Canada. Despite nuclear energy being a politically sensitive issue in many regions of Canada, Ontario's government has indicated their intention to build more nuclear power plants to meet the projected future demand for more electric power. Proposals have come forward whereby exhaust heat from a (co-generative) nuclear power station could be heat-pumped into an adjoining ethanol plant to reduce the thermal energy required to produce ethanol (from biomass).
Western Canada (Alberta) has large reserves of low-rank coal that can be processed into a combustible coal-water fuel that may be used in external-combustion engines (1,2) such as boilers. Sustained high world oil prices may also allow Western Canadian coal to be feasibly processed into synthetic gasoline and other synthetic hydrocarbons by way of the Fischer-Tropsch process. Clean coal technologies such as gasification and total carbon recapture are still under development and could result in more Western Canadian coal being used to generate electricity. Exhaust heat rejected from such coal-fired power plants could be heat-pumped into an adjoining ethanol plant so as to reduce the amount of energy needed to produce ethanol from biomass.
Canada presently supplies a large percentage of the natural gas to the North American market. However, competitively priced LNG from abroad (Russia) will soon be arriving in Eastern Canada. This development will leave large deposits of Canadian natural gas undeveloped for several decades. It may even become cheaper to produce sulphur-free synthetic diesel fuel from imported LNG rather than from domestic natural gas. Imported LNG is likely to be handled at a port in Quebec where it will be heated and transferred into long-distance natural gas pipelines. Foreign and domestic natural gas will likely be carried in pipelines where a portion of it will be used at some locations to power engines at pumping stations that maintain line pressure.
The exhaust heat rejected at each natural gas fueled pumping station would be sufficient to power a bottom-cycle engine (3) that may generate electric power that may be sold to nearby communities (in remote regions). Power may also be reclaimed from natural gas pipelines (4) at various pressure-drop transfer points where an engine may be installed instead of a choke valve. Natural gas has become the preferred fuel for use in thermal mega-power stations. Exhaust heat (300-deg F) from these power stations could be heat-pumped into adjoining ethanol plants so as to reduce the amount of energy required to produce ethanol from biomass. It may be coincidental that Canada's biggest planned corn-to-ethanol plant will be built at Sarnia (Ontario) and close to a planned 2200-Mw natural gas fueled power station.
Biomass is regarded as being a carbon-neutral fuel that may be used to produce power as well as ethanol. Some of the biomass may be supplied by the managed forests that serve Canada's lumber industry as well as the pulp and paper industry that recently suffered a downturn. Several paper mills have been closed and it may be possible to convert some of them into biomass-fueled cogenerative power stations. The exhaust heat from the steam turbines may be heat-pumped (using saturated water) to support operations in an adjoining wood-to-ethanol plant. When used as a high-temperature refrigerant (eg: 250-psia at 400-deg F), saturated water can achieve a coefficient of performance of over 5 to 1. The close proximity of paper mills to rivers assures easier access to sufficient water to sustain ethanol production and cool the condensers.
Despite having an abundance of non-renewable energy resources, Canada is a major exporter of renewable energy into American markets. Hydroelectric dams that are located in British Columbia, Labrador and Quebec supply markets in the USA and hydroelectric power in Quebec is periodically used to produce hydrogen for export into Western European markets. Canada has a very large untapped capacity for renewable energy that has yet to be developed. That potential may actually exceed the combined hydroelectric output of the major dams of British Columbia, Quebec and Labrador.
Canada has a tremendous potential to generate power from ocean tides. The Triton (5) group of Vancouver recently undertook a study into Canada's ocean power potential. Ocean tidal currents flowing through the channels at the eastern and western entrances to Hudson Strait have an estimated combined generation potential of just over 29,000-Mw (5,6) while the tidal inlets around Ungava Bay have a potential to generate some 3800-Mw. The optimized combined tidal power potential of Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay could exceed 40,000-Mw for periods of some 10-hours per day (400,000-Mw-hrs per day) and greatly exceeds the power potential of the Bay of Fundy. The existing hydroelectric power dams in Quebec and Labrador could be modified to provide hydraulic storage for ocean tidal power generation from Northeastern Canada.
The potential to store massive amounts of energy in the hydroelectric dams of Labrador and Quebec allows for the development of intermittent sources of renewable energy conversion on a mega scale. One such source is high-altitude wind power (7,8) that was originally conceived by Dr Brian Roberts of Australia. There are powerful winds that blow in parts of Eastern Canada (9) that are away from commercial flight paths and where high-altitude windpower may be developed.
The regions include the southeast corner of Baffin Island, the Torngat Mountain range of Labrador and the southeastern corner of Hudson Bay along Quebec's West Coast. Air currents in these regions flow at high-velocity (9) at low altitude (150-ft to 240-ft elevation) and increase in velocity at higher altitudes (15,000-ft to 25,000-ft) that would still be below the flight altitude of commercial jet aircraft. An installation that has 10-flying-turbines (8) spaced at 1000-ft intervals could generate over 30-Mw in a wind that blows at 30-miles per hour. An estimated 250-installations could be built across the aforementioned regions of Eastern Canada and deliver over 7500-Mw of power during summer weather and perhaps exceed 20,000-Mw output during the winter months.
There has recently been renewed interest across Canada in using low-grade geothermal energy to heat homes as well as commercial buildings during winter and cool them during summer. Several skyscrapers are cooled in the central downtown core of Toronto (Ontario) during the hot summer months using cold water from the bottom of Lake Ontario. The business district of Springhill (Nova Scotia) is geothermally heated at low cost during the winter months by using groundwater (at 75-degrees F) that flooded a nearby abandoned coal mine.
Geothermal companies across Canada can barely keep up with the demand as more private homes and commercial buildings convert to geothermally-based winter heating and summer cooling. Western Canada is virtually peppered with some 10,000-depleted oil wells and exhausted natural gas wells where the porous rock has been flooded with groundwater. The thermal energy in these wells (over 85-degrees F) is sufficient to enable closed-cycle engines using R-44 as the working fluid to produce power during cold winter months (minus 20-degrees F). Only a very small percentage of Canada's vast potential for low-grade geothermal energy has so far been developed.
- Western Canada will likely remain a significant exporter of oil for many years into the future. New innovations that are presently under development could reduce the cost of Canadian crude oil and increase the export of such oil to the United States, China and India.
- Quebec would likely become a producer, storage depot, hub and distributor of renewable energy that would include tidal power from Hudson Strait as well as high-altitude wind power of Northern Labrador and Western Quebec. The potential hydraulic storage capacity in the hydroelectric dams of Quebec and Labrador will play a critical role in the development of these aforementioned energy sources. That energy may be exported into Northeastern American markets as electricity and to overseas markets as hydrogen.
- Canada has the climate where large expanses of managed forests may be cultivated to sustain a viable wood-to-ethanol industry. Thermal power stations operate at numerous locations across Canada and produce the kind of thermal energy in their exhausts that can be used to reduce the cost of producing ethanol at adjoining plants. The future cost of ethanol from such plants could be low enough so as to reduce or eliminate the need for government subsidies.
- Sustained high world oil prices and geopolitics may eventually provide an opportunity for Western Canadian coal to be feasibly processed into synthetic hydrocarbons and Canadian natural gas to be feasibly processed into sulphur-free synthetic diesel fuel. Refinements in the Fischer-Tropsch process could also determine as to whether synthetic fuel will be produced in Canada
(5) http://www.triton.ca (click on "downloads")