Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

5. The sand-and-water slurry is dumped into tanks with hot water, where it separates into three layers: sand, bitumen froth (impure bitumen), and a middle layer that is further treated to extract bitumen. Bitumen froth is also treated to remove impurities. [Click here to view image.]

6. Oil companies create ponds in which to dump millions of cubic meters of the sandy, toxic by-product of oil-sand processing. These “tailings ponds” are characterized by salt and acids. Here, a worker installs a scarecrow to keep birds away. [Click here to view image.]

7. Bitumen is a viscous mixture of long hydrocarbon chains–strings of as many as thousands of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms. These molecules must be “upgraded” to shorter molecules before they can be refined into petroleum products.

Purified bitumen is heated to break its long hydrocarbon chains into lighter molecules, such as naphtha, that can be refined. This process is called coking and takes place in large towers. The high-carbon by-product of the process, called coke, in turn fuels the coking furnaces. Distillation and a hydrogenation process are the final steps. [Click here to view image.]

8. The extensive processing of oil sand generates “sweet” crude oil, so called because of its low levels of sulfur and other impurities. Crude oil can be refined into gasoline of different grades and chemicals for making plastics. [Click here to view image.]

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Lara Solt/Dallas Morning News/Corbis; photo 2: Greg Smith/Corbis; inset: courtesy of Suncor Energy, Inc.; photo 3: Courtesy of Petro-Canada; photo 4: Courtesy of Suncor Energy, Inc.; photo 5: Hans-Juergen Burkard/Bilderberg; inset: courtesy of Suncrude Canada Ltd.; photo 6: Hans-Juergen Burkard/Bilderberg; photo 7: Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.; photo 8: Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.

8 comments. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Energy

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me