Increasing innovation and decreasing water use at our Lima Refinery
July 2022 - Refineries are filled with complex, maze-like networks of pipes, pumps and vessels. But at the heart of the operation is water, specifically steam, which is used to power many processes at the facility. And now our Lima Refinery has found a way to further reduce the amount of freshwater used in the operations – potentially by 83% over three years.
“The water re-use project at our Lima Refinery is groundbreaking in terms of how we manage, use and save water,” says Kara Zernhel, Cenovus Lima Refinery Manager, Area Operations. “We have actually taken a very simple process used in most households, converted it to a large-scale operation, and it has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of freshwater we use at the facility.”
The process Kara is referring to is called reverse osmosis, a concept most kids learn about in grade school science. It is how most standard water filters remove excess minerals from drinking water.
This process isn’t new to refineries either, with many using reverse osmosis to clean water before it is discharged as part of their regular operations. However, the Lima process is unique because we don’t discharge the left-over water – we re-use and recycle it, which has the added benefit of drawing on less freshwater to use in further operations.
“Before we implemented this new water re-use process, our water storage ponds were being released safely, through release protocol and permits, into the Ottawa River,” explains Kara. “But now we are actually able to re-use the treated water in the storage ponds for boiler feed water to make steam – which is saving a significant amount of freshwater at our operations.”
The Lima Refinery is the only known refinery using this process for recovering and recycling water, which is quickly becoming an impactful technology that the on-site team is hopeful they can continue to develop, helping pioneer a more sustainable way for other refineries to also reduce water consumption.
“The process is making real impacts by improving our water recycle rates from 60% in 2020 to 93% in 2021 and we expect this number to get close to 100% as we’re constantly optimizing our techniques,” says Kara. “This project is a proud moment for innovation at the Lima Refinery and for Cenovus, and we’re excited that we’re helping the refinery use water efficiently.”