Molding the clay of change: Transforming tailings into nutrients for remediation

Tailings Innovation Opportunity


Working with and using clay dates back to the beginning of human existence on Earth. Given our history using clay for everything from building materials to pottery, you might assume we know all there is to know about it. Not true. As an innovator, this is where we need your help. 

Clay is a primary mineral found in oil sands. Once the oil has been separated, by-products like sand, water and clay are stored in tailings ponds. As an industry, our challenge is to bring new thinking and innovation to how we accelerate land and water reclamation of tailings ponds. And that means thinking about clay differently. 

COSIA is looking for leading-edge technologies from innovators to explore the bulk and surface attributes of oil sands clay minerals to effect a beneficial behavioural change in tailings. 

Not only would your solution help us improve the environmental performance of oil sands development, but it could have the opportunity for significant commercial deployment. 

About This Innovation Opportunity 

How can we change or modify the way clay behaves to speed up the reclamation process? If you think your research or technology could provide a commercial solution, we want to hear from you.  

Modifications to the clay could take several forms. For example, your solution could address: 

1.    Improvement for reclamation timelines: Clay properties determine tailings behaviours and, in turn, reclamation timelines. Modification of clay properties to accelerate dewatering and consolidation would facilitate reclamation activities. Examples of such a change could include modifying the clay surface area to be hydrophobic to repel water to facilitate/accelerate separation of clay and water. 

2.    Modification for sequestration of constituents of potential concern (CoPCs): Poor dewatering and consolidation rates associated with oil sands fluid fine tailings are driven largely by clay minerals in fluid fine tailings. There is an opportunity to take advantage of high surface area clay minerals towards minimizing the footprint of fluid fine tailings and getting tailings ponds ready for terrestrial or aquatic reclamation, including permanent sorption sites for metals, organic CoPCs and CO2, while accelerating the in-situ dewatering rates of fluid fine tailings. 
3.    Modification to facilitate biological treatment/processes: Modification of clay chemistry could improve the characteristics of the clays as a substrate for biological use to increase algal or microbial activity. Examples could include accelerating tailings consolidation, increasing CO2 consumption, or production of a beneficial organic by-product. 

Your solution should improve understanding of the clay properties and behaviours and build on the considerable body of work in the public domain.

Solutions should not adversely impact the water chemistry or introduce novel agents that negatively affect bitumen extraction or reclamation targets. 

Further information and technical details and requirements are outlined in the challenge document COSIA has developed to enable potential solution providers to help us meet the challenge of advancing zero footprint technologies.

Submit an idea for consideration

Your knowledge could help us improve the environmental performance of the energy Canadians rely on every day. If your idea could be applied to this innovation opportunity, please follow the process below:

•    Review the challenge document and the related links for more information.
•    Evaluate your research idea, solution or technology to see if it could be applied as a passive organic treatment solution. 
•    Submit your idea through COSIA’s Environmental Technology Assessment Portal (E-TAP). This step requires filling out a simple form to provide us with basic, non-confidential information.

Submissions will be viewed by all COSIA members. If even just one COSIA member is interested in the idea, commercial discussions will begin. 

What’s in it for a potential solution provider?

As an academic, researcher, innovator, inventor, entrepreneur, large company, or if you have other technical expertise, we can help turn your idea into a real-world solution.

There are many benefits to working with COSIA, which can include opportunities to develop or test new technologies. The oil sands are one of Canada’s largest industries. There are significant market opportunities for any technologies that are commercialized for use by one or more COSIA members. Many technologies advanced through COSIA can also find markets in other industries. 

Our Approach

COSIA is an alliance of oil sands producers focused on accelerating the pace of improvement in environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through collaborative action and innovation. 

In an effort to improve environmental performance, COSIA members analyze their operations to identify possibilities that, if realized, would contribute towards achievement of COSIA’s aspirations. We call these Innovation Opportunities, which incorporate focused, actionable descriptions of the current state of the opportunity and desired results.

Our full list of Innovation Opportunities includes research and technology opportunities, from incremental – because the small things add up – through to game-changers with the potential to propel industry forward. 

Related Links

For more information on this and our other Innovation Opportunities:
•    View COSIA’s tailings research summary 
•    Read Fluid Fine Tailings Processes: Disposal, Capping and Closure Alternatives paper presented at the 2018 International Oil Sands Tailings Conference
•    Visit the COSIA website regularly 
•    Sign-up for our newsletter 
•    Follow our social media channels (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook

Share on:

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter