Piloting a safer crude-by-rail option

Piloting a safer crude-by-rail option

CN Rail has partnered up with the Alberta government and Toyo Engineering to further develop its CanaPux™ technology, a solid bitumen brick designed to be transported by rail.

CanaPux™ are solid, dry pucks of bitumen wrapped in a layer of polymer. The pucks do not dissolve or combust easily, reducing the risks of crude-by-rail transport, which usually requires large volumes of flammable diluent. 

Bitumen degradation technology was first pioneered by the University of Calgary, where heat is applied to remove the lighter ends of the bitumen, degrading the outer layer of the pellet into a thick viscous shell. Once cut open, the pellets have a squishy jelly-like interior. The pucks are injected with gas bubbles, increasing their buoyancy and ensuring the bitumen will float if spilled into a waterway. The pellets can be reconstituted once delivered to the refinery, but are also well suited for use as asphalt in road-paving.

CN's innovation is wrapping the pellets in a polymer, making the pucks buoyant and allowing them to be safely stored and transported as stackable dry goods. The polymer is intended to be removed once delivered to the final customer. The bitumen and polymer mixture, along with their polymer casing, are heated back into liquid form prior to further processing. 

The solid pellets are also likely to be exempted from the federal Liberal's crude tanker moratorium off BC's northern coast, although Transport Minister Marc Garneau says more testing is needed to confirm the consequences of a spill. 

Toyo will design and build a pilot plant capable of solidifying and re-liquefying up to 1,000 bbl/day of bitumen. CN patented the technology earlier this year jointly with Alberta Innovates and says it is still exploring licensing options for the bitumen bricks. Both CN and Toyo plan to eventually open a presentation centre for interested shippers, commercial partners and key stakeholders.

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