Sustainability at Suncor

Upgrading and refining technologies

Suncor’s upgrading and refining operations provide an important link between our Canadian resource base and the energy market.

Suncor processes crude oil into high-quality refined products consumers require. We continue to look for opportunities to minimize the environmental impact that results from the extraction and production of oil, and manufacturing and distribution of fuels.

Partial upgrading technology

Suncor currently uses two upgrading processes:

  • coking/thermal cracking: which heats bitumen to the point where it cracks into a vapour stream and a byproduct called ‘coke’
  • hydrotreating: where hydrogen is added to remove sulphur and blended for shipments to refineries

Suncor uses two upgrading processes, thermal cracking and hydrotreating, to process crude oil into high-quality refined products, but both methods require significant energy. Advancing technology development to partially upgrade bitumen would reduce the temperature and pressure of our processes, which can decrease the cost of treating bitumen and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity.

In 2020, we obtained access to the partial upgrading pilot facilities of the Western Research Institute in Laramie, Wyo.,. We conducted test runs with various Suncor bitumen products with the pilot technology in 2020 and continue to validate the technology’s capability to reduce our carbon emissions.

Reducing the temperature and pressure in our processes could decrease emissions at production and refining.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen is an emissions-free energy source currently used as part of our refining operations. We believe, however, that there’s opportunity beyond its current use as a new value chain. We’re already a large producer and user of hydrogen so this new business stream is a natural progression.

In a rising carbon price world, hydrogen can become an option for alternative fuels in hard-to-electrify sectors (e.g. marine, aviation, long haul trucking). It can also be a critical feedstock component for further upgrading our core value chain and potential future operations (e.g. renewable liquid fuels). The cost of hydrogen-related technologies and required infrastructure is central to the viability of the development of the sector. Low GHG intensity hydrogen provides an opportunity for us to decarbonize our existing assets while also supporting growth of our hydrogen markets. While development of low-GHG-emission hydrogen currently remains economically challenged, we are actively pursuing opportunities to develop large scale clean hydrogen production and are developing technologies to support our growth into this area.

Carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a GHG emission reduction alternative that captures the carbon dioxide (CO2) created primary during the combustion of fossil fuels in different industries (e.g. power generation, oil and gas, cement, steel, etc.) and stores it in underground formations safely and permanently, preventing emissions from entering the atmosphere. CCS is commercially available and has been deployed at scale. One of the main challenges is the cost of capture, however, technology development in this space is focused on reducing costs. Additional infrastructure is also needed to transport CO2 for long term storage.

In 2020, Suncor invested in Svante, a company out of Vancouver, B.C., using new adsorption-based technology that uses a solid material to remove CO2 from flue gas to reduce industrial emissions at a lower cost than traditional methods of capturing CO2. With support from Suncor and other companies and government, Svante can continue developing its technology to capture CO2 from heavy-emitting industries like cement, steel, and oil and gas production at a lower cost than current methods.

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