Canadian railway researching the concept of ‘bitumen bricks’

CN looks into wrapping oilsands product in polymer, creating safer, stackable dry goods

Right now, they look a lot like hockey pucks.

And Canadian National Railway is hoping they can eventually score a big goal for safety.

CN, Canada’s largest railway, recently filed a patent for a new technology that could help make bitumen transportation by rail safer.

The process involves mixing and wrapping bitumen, one of the products extracted from Canada’s oilsands, with a layer of polymer—transforming the heavy crude into buoyant, mostly solid pellets that will not leak or sink in water, according to CN.

Currently called CanaPux, the packets are eventually expected to be produced as cubes or bricks, stackable as dry goods, say CN officials. The heating process at refineries would separate the bitumen from the polymer.

“It’s still early days, so there’s a lot of work still to do. First and foremost, we want to perfect the pellet in terms of its shape, its size and the exact composition of polymer that we use in it,” Janet Drysdale, CN’s vice-president of corporate development, tells the Globe and Mail.

The technology is not seen as a replacement for pipelines, but it may be a solution for oilsands producers without pipeline access to tidewater. CN hopes that the transformation will make the product exempt from Canada’s tanker ban on British Columbia’s North Coast.

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