Ceramic membrane technology is a potential step-change improvement in the SAGD deoiling and desilication process. The equipment is made up of several artificial membranes made from inorganic materials that are designed to more effectively separate oil, suspended solids and minerals from produced water. Once the solids and oil have been removed, this water can be reused for steam production in the SAGD process. The ceramic membrane is typically coated with enhanced surface layers that enable it to process SAGD water, which is typically very hot and saturated with silica, organics and other solids that other membrane technologies cannot handle. If implemented, ceramic membrane technology would help to reduce environmental impacts while also providing an overall boost to water plant reliability. The ceramic membrane pilot was collaboratively tested by five oil sands companies and a leading supplier of water and wastewater services.
The ceramic membrane is a filter that separates oil and suspended solids from produced water. The physical barrier is designed to remove fine oil droplets and solids from the water in the initial phase of the water treatment process. This could enable improvements in the de-silication process, which is the removal of dissolved minerals from produced water. It produces better quality water by removing oil and solid particles, which could mitigate a number of operating and waste disposal issues. This would improve plant reliability. Ceramic membrane technology would eliminate the need for a large de-oiling system made up of induced gas flotation (IGF) vessels and oil removal filters, as well as the lime softening system. This would reduce the overall land footprint and simplify the water treatment process. In addition, it would create the ability to operate de-oiling at a higher temperature, which would improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A group of five producers and a leading supplier of technology for water and waste water services have collaborated on the ceramic membrane technology project. Pilot projects have determined that ceramic membrane technology is able to overcome some of the challenges associated with treating water in the SAGD process by remove oil and silica in a single step.