Canadian plans to transport oil as solid briquettes move forward

Canadian National Railway is seeking support from government and industry.

The Canada National Railway Company (CN) has spent years developing a product called CanaPux, in which thick bitumen crude oil from Canada's oil sands is mixed with a polymer to become a solid puck that can be transported with little fear of spills or fires. When the pucks reach their destination, the polymer is separated from the oil and can be sent back to the processing plant for reuse.

Now, CN Innovations, the branch of CN that developed CanaPux, has found two partnering groups that are interested in building production plants to develop the pucks. One is a Chinese group seeking to export bitumen (the name for the low-grade heavy oil found in Canadian oil sands) to China, the other is a Canadian group wanting to export the stuff to South Korea and India, among other countries. The Canadian group in particular has been focusing on exporting bitumen for non-combustion purposes: heavy oil like bitumen is often used to pave and waterproof roofs, according to James Auld, the project lead for CanaPux at CN.

Auld told Ars on Monday that a 10,000 barrel-a-day CanaPux production plant would cost about CAN$50 million (US$37.6 million) to build, not including a facility at the other end of the transportation chain that would de-polymerize the briquettes of oil. The two groups looking to build CanaPux plants are eyeing plants that could process between 10,000 and 50,000 barrels per day.

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