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Oil Sands Science and Research

Through innovation, the oil sands industry will continue to make significant progress in ensuring Canada establishes emission reduction strategies consistent with international obligations to protect the planet. At Natural Resources Canada, CanmetENERGY is Canada's knowledge centre for scientific expertise in clean energy research and technology development.

Driven by strict environmental regulations, industry collaboration, and strong government commitment to research and development, CanmetENERGY is at the forefront of innovation in the oil sands.

Learn more about CanmetENERGY research and activities in:

Direct Contact Steam Generation (DCSG) Video

NRCan researchers at CanmetENERGY – Ottawa have developed revolutionary technology that employs a direct combustion process to generate a concentrated flue gas stream consisting primarily of steam and CO2.

Direct Contact Steam Generation (DCSG) improves current Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage techniques by putting recycled water from the bitumen extraction process directly into a high-pressure, high-temperature combustor, to produce steam mixed with CO2 for injection into an underground well. The process is more energy-efficient than conventional steam production, can use recycled water from oil sands operations, and can sequester CO2 in oil sands reservoirs. As a result, this innovative technology reduces GHG emissions by up to 85%, while minimizing fresh water use and eliminating expensive water treatment processes, ultimately lowering the environmental cost of bitumen extraction.


Extraction of heavy oil called bitumen is an important component of Canada’s economy.

Alberta provides over 15% of Canada’s GDP and almost a third of that is from resource extraction.

Unfortunately Canadian oil resources are more difficult and expensive to extract, with higher environmental consequences than many other world crude oil resources, making it less desirable to world markets.

What if there was a method of extracting bitumen that could be economical and have very little environmental impact including utilizing minimal fresh water, and producing almost no emissions?

Working with industry, Natural Resources Canada, through its CANMET Energy labs, has developed methods that create far less negative environmental impact and lower greenhouse emissions, while also being cost competitive.

CanmetENERGY’s technology builds upon one of the most advanced of these techniques - steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).  

SAGD uses paired horizontally drilled wells that extend to through the bitumen deposit buried underground.

This process requires some fresh water makeup, and the production of this steam results in making this process energy intensive and increases its negative environmental impact.   

CanmetENERGY has developed steam generation technology that is far less energy intensive and has much less environmental impact. It’s called Direct Contact Steam Generation, or DCSG.

Where the SAGD process requires expensive treatment of recycle water and normally has no GHG control, DCSG produces steam by putting recycle water from bitumen extraction directly through an oxygen flame with no need for treatment. 

This creates mostly steam, mixed with produced carbon dioxide and residues, all going back to underground injection well. In fact, the system is virtually a closed loop. 

Here’s how it works. We burn natural gas with oxygen at high pressure and inject recycle water from bitumen extraction through the flame to produce steam mixed with CO2. 

The pressurized steam product flows into the steam injection well - the upper of the paired horizontal wells dug underground at a depth of approximately 4-6  meters apart. 

This warms the bitumen in the reservoir causing the bitumen to soften and eventually flow by gravity down to the lower well called the production well.  

The liquid in the lower well, is then pumped back up to the surface…… where the bitumen is separated.   

The recycle water that is left over, without treatment, is then used within the DCSG to make steam again.  

A significant amount the carbon dioxide produced in the process of heating the water stays underground – and that helps helps to reduce greenhouse gases.  

CanmetENERGY has developed the DCSG process over the past 10 years as part of our R&D activities.

We have built a pilot scale facility at our Ottawa labs that allows us to test every facet of the DCSG process with great care.

In parallel with the DCSG pilot plant in Ottawa, a larger demonstration unit is being considered by Suncor for use in Northern Alberta.

Here are the advantages of direct contact steam generation:

  • It provides greater control of GHG emissions
  • It minimizes fresh water use by consuming recycle water (Produced water and tailings water) without treatment
  • DCSG produces a dry solid waste product
  • It can utilize waste fuels such as petroleum coke
  • Costs are competitive with existing technology
  • And it allows Canada to produce petroleum product with an environmental impact that is on par with the lowest in the world, making our oil much more attractive on the global market.

For more information about direct contact steam generation and CanmetENERGY, please visit this site.

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Devon (AB) Research Centre

trucksCanmetENERGY in Devon, located near Edmonton, focuses on the development of cleaner fossil fuels and related environmental technologies with a focus on oil sands and heavy oil.

Ottawa (ON) Research Centre

CanmetENERGY – Ottawa : CanmetENERGY in Ottawa engages in research and development in the areas of energy efficiency, fossil fuels, and renewable and alternative energy sources. Our goal is to ensure that Canada is at the leading edge of clean energy technology development and greenhouse gas reduction.

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