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NRC's IEC is a valuable ally in Canadian industry's search to solve environmental problems.

The Institute for Environmental Chemistry has worked with many industries using the most modern methods in the struggle against pollution

The National Research Council's Institute for Environmental Chemistry (IEC) helps Canadian industry find solutions to environmental problems. The following summary introduces research in progress in IEC's Process Technology Program, one of three technical programs within the institute. The Process Technology Program provides a major focus for chemical technology and engineering work within IEC.

Much of this work, in which IEC has many years of experience, involves key disciplines such as fine particle technology and membrane separation science. Other skills have been added, including computational fluid dynamics, polymer modification and surface science.

Some recent achievements in this program area include:

* The ability to decontaminate oily soil using a method which does not damage soil fertility.

* The development of an economical process, based on membrane separation, to reclaim used oil.

* The design of spray tower atomizers for incinerators. This design was successfully installed at a plant in Quebec City and at U.S. locations.

* Understanding the slow settling behavior of oil sands sludges.

Liquid process separations

IEC has performed a number of evaluation studies on possible applications for membrane separation processes in the resource sector. Collaborative work with a consortium of pulp and paper interests has included in-depth laboratory studies with parallel work in a pulp mill. Commercial membranes and IEC modified polysulphone membranes have been investigated from the point of view of durability and resistance to fouling. A process integration study has evaluated a number of technologies applicable to the environmental aspects of pulp mill operations. The study is expected to lead to a major demonstration of these technologies.

Several interests in the mining and mineral processing industry have joined with IEC and Energy, Mines and Resources' CANMET program to examine the use of membrane technology to resolve environmental problems. Work in progress relates to gold ore processing, the separation of flotation agents and the treatment of leachates. Prior to this, IEC successfully demonstrated the superior capability of its membranes for removing humic acids from Bayer process liquor in aluminum ore processing. A close linkage exists between IEC's process technology and polymer/membrane science activities, putting the institute at the forefront of new developments and pioneering in many.

In the petroleum industry, IEC has pursued two major opportunities for the application of membrane separation technologies. One such activity has provided technical support to a new company which is successfully using ceramic microfiltration for recycling and upgrading used oils.

Another research activity, involving the Wastewater Technology Centre, Burlington, ON, and a group of oil companies, is looking at the potential uses of microfiltration or ultrafiltration for the treatment of oil field brines (produced water). Contaminants that are responsible for the decline in performance of these membranes, due to fouling, have been examined. A judicious choice of membrane materials promises to help overcome this problem.

Gaseous separations and emissions control

IEC's atomizer design continues to evolve, expanding the scope and type of applications suitable to this design. Optimization of the atomizer for a variety of combustion applications is underway, including applications which use low grade fuels that are difficult to atomize. A range of sizes of atomizers for stack gas cleaning were designed and field tested.

A new atomizer design, suitable for sulphur dioxide scrubbing with lime slurry, has progressed to a field test stage. Backed by a program of fundamental study, computational fluid dynamics models are used to define the complex parameters involved in the operation of these gas scrubbing systems. Construction of an experimental tower to verify this modeling work is underway. These recent additions to IEC's work will eventually result in a broader scope of applications for this technology. Some possible applications include the homogenization of hog fuels used in pulp and paper production and the micro-emulsification of coke suppressants in heavy oil prior to upgrading.

During the past year, research on gaseous separations was based on both polymeric and ceramic membranes. In the case of polymeric membranes, IEC has had extremely encouraging results when applying modified polysulphone and polyamide membranes to prevaporation. The institute has teamed with a Canadian petrochemical company to assess this technology as a low-energy separation method for petrochemical processing.

Fine particle technologies

IEC has continued to apply skills in fine particle, surface and colloid science to a number of environmentally significant problems Work with the Oil Sands Fine Tailings Fundamentals Consortium is in its fourth year. IEC has defined the causes of sludge formation, which occurs during the current hot water extraction process, in terms of gel-forming clay components in the ore body. Based on our fundamental research, a process change was proposed, and successfully tested, resulting in a 70% reduction in sludge formation.

A combination of solvent extraction and agglomeration technology has been demonstrated to be capable of remediating agricultural soil contaminated with heavy oil. The Alberta Environment Centre (AEC) continues to collaborate on this work and has shown that this process does not destroy soil fertility. Coupled with its applicability to fine grained (clay) soils, this process holds great promise. IEC is assembling the funding and commercial participants in order to progress to a large scale process demonstration.

This remediation process was derived from one originally developed at NRC for oil sands extraction. It has been proposed that, by combining the hot water extraction process and the NRC process, bitumen recovery can be improved and sludge formation reduced. To evaluate this option, collaborative work with a major oil sands producer and the Alberta Oil Sands Technology Research Authority (AOSTRA), is underway.

As part of the National Research Council, IEC is committed to improving, protecting and understanding the environment. Through its technical programs, such as the Process Technology Program, IEC performs focused and relevant R & D and transfers technology and knowledge to industry clients and collaborators, and to public sector partners.
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Title Annotation:National Research Council's Institute for Environmental Chemistry
Author:Capes, Ed; Zaks, Debi
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:CANMET Group seeks value-added products from natural gas.
Next Article:The new alchemy: turning waste into oil and chemicals.

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