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Imperial Oil buys hydrogen for Alta. renewable diesel refinery

Imperial Oil Ltd. has made significant progress in its plans for a renewable diesel complex near...

IMAGE: Imperial Oil's Strathcona facility

Imperial’s existing Strathcona facility near Edmonton. (Courtesy Imperial Oil Ltd.)

Imperial Oil Ltd. has made significant progress in its plans for a renewable diesel complex near its Strathcona refinery in Edmonton, including a contract with Air Products and Chemicals to supply low-carbon hydrogen to the Imperial site.

Air Products (APD-N) will provide the hydrogen via a pipeline from its own Edmonton plant, which is also currently under construction. That hydrogen will be combined with bio-feedstocks, carbon capture and storage as well as a proprietary catalyst to produce the low-carbon, renewable diesel by Imperial (IMO-T).

Approximately 500,000 tonnes of CO2 are expected to be captured annually.

The contract with Air Products will account for approximately 50 per cent of the low-carbon hydrogen output from the complex, which is forecast to produce 35 metric tonnes per day.

“We’ve been doing R and D in that clean-energy space for a long time. Renewable diesel is something that the last few years we’ve been looking into, if this was an area that would fit into our portfolio and with some of our ambitions,” said Keri Scobie, Imperial’s public and government affairs manager at the Strathcona refinery. “What we want to do is to play our part in helping Canada reach net-zero by 2050.”

The refinery expansion was announced in August 2021; it will be the largest in Western Canada. By 2024, it will have the capacity to produce 20,000 barrels per day — or three million litres. Each year, production will total over a billion litres.

Many vehicles can accept 100 per cent renewable diesel, while the fuel can be used in up to a 50 per cent mix in aviation.

Renewable diesel complex

As part of the project research, the company’s findings state the renewable diesel has the capability to reduce annual CO2 emissions by three million tonnes compared to conventional fuels. This is equivalent to taking more than 650,000 passenger vehicles off the road.

It also cites various third-party studies that have shown renewable diesel from various non-petroleum feedstocks can provide life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 40 per cent to 80 per cent compared to petroleum-based diesel.

Renewable diesel can be made from animal fats, food waste and plant oils. Imperial has yet to finalize the feedstocks that will be used, although according to Scobie it could be stocks like “canola, soy or camelina” oils.

It wasn’t just access to potential feedstocks that made the Strathcona facility an attractive choice for renewable diesel.

“Lots of it has to do, I think, with the facility itself. So, we’re a very reliable operation, we have plot space for this facility within our existing footprint at the site,” Scobie explained. “We’ve got some exceptional people and talent that work here that really helped bring these projects to life.

“So it’s a variety of factors for sure.”

The renewable diesel complex is creating 600 direct construction jobs before production begins. The B.C. government had previously agreed to support the project with an agreement under its low-carbon fuel legislation.

Renewable future

Scobie declined to discuss future plans in the renewable diesel space. Instead, she stressed Imperial’s focus on the task ahead.

“Right now, we’re focusing on our partnership with Air Products, but this is an exciting space to be in,” Scobie said. “We know that the transportation (and) fuel products that we make today are important, and there’s a need for them, but there also is a need for us to be a little bit more forward-looking and look for those kinds of lower-carbon solutions and how we can be in that sustainability space.”

Imperial isn’t the only significant player in Canadian renewable diesel. In January, Federated Co-operatives Ltd., a gas, food and agricultural supplies retailer, announced plans for an estimated $2 billion renewable diesel fuel and canola-crushing plant in Regina in partnership with AGT Foods and planned for 2027.

In June of 2021, Imperial became a founding member of the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance — one of six companies responsible for 95 per cent of Canada’s oil sands production. All have set goals of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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