Leav­ing Tail­ings Be­hind

Ti­ta­nium set out to re­claim oil sands min­er­als be­fore they hit the tail­ings ponds and dropped out of the rev­enue stream. But the chal­lenges it faced over its 11-year R&D jour­ney led to en­vi­ron­men­tal fixes as well

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CAL­GARY-BASED TI­TA­NIUM HAS IN­VENTED A SYS­TEM OF

re­mov­ing min­er­als, bi­tu­men and sol­vents from oil sands froth treat­ment tanks be­fore they wind up in tail­ings ponds. Apart from cut­ting down on tail­ings re­quire­ments, it also cuts out green­house gases (GHGs). But it didn’t start out like this 11 years ago. Back then the com­pany merely wanted to re­cover zir­con and ti­ta­nium to gen­er­ate rev­enue. But the times they are a-changin,’ and so has the scope of the project.

When Scott Nel­son, CEO of Ti­ta­nium, co-founded the com­pany in 2005, the aim was sim­ple. “Let’s get some valu­able commodities that aren’t be­ing re­cov­ered,” Nel­son says. The re­sult was the com­pany’s Cre­at­ing Value from Waste (CVW) tech­nol­ogy. But one of the first chal­lenges the project faced was a lack of hu­man re­sources. So in­stead of hir­ing staff di­rectly, Ti­ta­nium col­lab­o­rated with as many as 10 part­ners, in­clud­ing in academia, oil sands and en­gi­neer­ing. That al­lowed Ti­ta­nium to fo­cus on its core com­pe­ten­cies in waste tail­ings.

One of the first col­lab­o­ra­tors was Can­metEn­ergy, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­search cen­ter south of Ed­mon­ton, where Ti­ta­nium spent $30 mil­lion on a pilot project. The mag­ni­tude of the project is il­lus­trated by the num­ber of tests it car­ried out: 40,000. And find­ing min­eral ex­per­tise was a spe­cific chal­lenge for all those in­volved. “We brought a guy in from Africa,” Nel­son says. “And we shipped a lot of min­eral sam­ples to Aus­tralia.” Most of world’s min­eral com­pa­nies use firms in Bris­bane, which he calls “the cen­ter of uni­verse for heavy min­er­als tech­nol­ogy.”

Ti­ta­nium did its own hir­ing when it came to de­sign­ing the rel­e­vant tech­nol­ogy. It needed ex­pe­ri­enced oil sands pro­fes­sion­als with the vi­sion that cleaner tech­nolo­gies could be de­vel­oped and

SCOTT NEL­SON, CEO OF TI­TA­NIUM, IN FRONT OF AN X-RAY DIFFRAC­TION MA­CHINE THAT FINDS VALU­ABLE MIN­ER­ALS IN OIL SANDS FROTH TAIL­INGS

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