UCalgary: New Oil-Climate Index Compares Crude Oils

Schulich researcher creates open-source refinery model to estimate greenhouse gas emissions

By Lisha Hassanali

Schulich School of Engineering researcher Joule Bergerson creates an open-source refinery model to estimate GHG emissions. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Schulich School of Engineering researcher Joule Bergerson creates an open-source refinery model to estimate GHG emissions. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Not all oils are created equal. That’s the message from Schulich School of Engineering researcher Joule Bergerson. She contributed to the first Oil-Climate Index which compares various crude oils’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the life cycle, from point of extraction to the consumer.

According to the report, “Know Your Oil: Creating a Global Oil-Climate Index” by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Stanford University, and the University of Calgary, there are significant differences in GHG emissions between the 30 test oils measured.

Comparing crude oils

“We chose crude oils from all over the world, inputting publicly available data into our model and we found that there is an over 80% difference between the highest and the lowest on a per barrel basis,” said Bergerson, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and the Centre for Environmental Engineering Research and Education.

Bergerson embarked on this project along with co-authors Deborah Gordon, Adam Brandt and Jonathan Koomey to better understand the environmental impacts or costs of these crude oils. “The index allows us to isolate where the differences in emissions are and what targeted changes to make that will give the biggest bang for your emissions reducing buck,” she said.

This report is about creating a dialogue and making more informed decisions for industry, research and policymakers.

“One of the discoveries in gathering this data was that the Alberta oilsands industry is one of the most transparent about its GHG emissions and the qualities of its crude oils,” says Bergerson. “We need more consistent and targeted information. While the oilsands companies and Alberta already provide most of what is needed, other jurisdictions need to be engaged. That way we can be more effective at managing crude oil pathways and reducing the impact to the climate globally.”

Open-source refinery model

According to Bergerson, the research analysis is only just beginning. “We want people to share their data and knowledge, adding to our understanding. We have made the Petroleum Refinery Life Cycle Inventory Model (PRELIM) open source and available to the public. The model can estimate the GHG emissions associated with processing a variety of crude oils within a range of configurations in a refinery.”

PRELIM is freely available for download from the Life Cycle Analysis of Oil Sands Technologies research group and was built using Microsoft Excel to ensure transparency and maximum accessibility.

“We spent a lot of time validating and improving the model by working with companies in the oil and gas industry,” says Bergerson. However, this is an ongoing effort. “PRELIM aims to inform policy analysis by providing a transparent model including data, assumptions and detailed results.”

Bergerson was assisted on the building and validation of the refinery model by former student and Schulich graduate Jessica Abella, MSc ’12. Currently, Schulich PhD student Kavan Motazedi is further developing the model under Bergerson’s supervision.

Source University of Calgary