By Dr. Russell Chianelli, The University of Texas at El Paso, M.R.T.I
A recent Wall Street Journal article1 describes what is well known to people in the energy industry. Canadian tar sands (bitumen) contain a massive amount of petroleum hydrocarbons and provide a major source of U.S. imports.
The article goes on to discuss “pros and cons” of using this very heavy source, including environmental issues. Canadian tar sand producers have a respected record of producing tars effectively and controlling environmental pollution. Discussions against using the Canadian tar sands include greenhouse arguments regarding the use of petroleum hydrocarbons. However, it is clear that the United States needs secure, friendly sources for security reasons, and, in addition, there are great economic benefits to using this nearby source.
Besides offering energy security, the oil sands offer numerous opportunities for materials scientists. These include novel catalyst and catalytic processes for upgrading the bitumen, metallurgical improvement for advanced reactors, and environmental improvements. It appears that petroleum resources in North America and growing natural gas production offer the promise of “energy independence.”