Mining Oil Sands With Steam Generators

Mining oil sands with steam generators. Oil fields of Canada hold an estimated 169 billion barrels, second only to Saudi Arabia in potential oil production. The challenge lies in extracting the particularly sticky, semi-solid bitumen from the sand. Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques represent the leading edge of technology, most of them using superheated steam to reduce the viscosity of the oil and pump it to the surface.

One of ACES’s customers is a leader in mining the Canadian oil sands and they came to ACES with an order for three control cabinets, each controlling one of three new steam generators, as part of their expansion plans. Working closely with the partner who built the generators, ACES programmed the control cabinets using a customized implementation of the FlexSteam Control System to meet the customer’s special requirements: The customer wanted to be able to connect the control panels to the generators on their own, quickly and easily, and they also wanted close monitoring and trending of the three pumps attached to the generators.

ACES built one large control panel and two medium-sized ones: The large control panel has a 73 million BTU input and governs a hefty 250 hp feedwater pump. The two medium control panels each have 30 million BTU input and each one governs a 100 hp pump. All three generators inject 600º F steam at 1200 psi to superheat the tar-like bitumen and make it more fluid.

Quick Connectors

To meet the customer’s first requirement that the cabinets be easily plugged in to the generators, ACES turned to Turck quick connectors. It required some extra time up front to build receptacles into the bottom of each cabinet and to attach all the wiring — but this paid off by giving the customer the ability to connect the cabinet in an hour, versus the days it would take to run conduit and hardwire hundreds of leads to the generator. It’s so simple to connect that the customer can do it themselves, minimizing errors that might consume even more time.

Transport is easier and safer as well, because the sensitive control cabinets can be driven in a smooth-riding truck, cushioned and enclosed, separate from the industrial-sized generator itself.

Well-Monitored Pumps

ACES programmed an unusual amount of communication between the PLCs and the three pumps. ACES installed a sonic transmitter, which is constantly trending the exact lube oil pressure — not just when it exceeds or falls below certain parameters — and a unit level checker allows real-time monitoring of oil levels, with specified set points, outside of which an alarm will sound. The real-time transmitter also contains a vibration monitor, so if a pump shakes too much, indicating a malfunction, an alarm will be triggered.

Lube Oil Pumps

In addition, the three pumps each have their own dedicated lube oil pump. In the two 100 hp pumps the smaller pumps run off of the pump shafts. The 250 hp pump sports a dedicated 1.5 hp, motor-driven oil pump, which runs initially to pre-oil the bearings of the large pump. Even with the broad range of RPMs possible, with the largest pump the bearings are always properly lubed.

All together the controllers can instruct the pumps when to turn on, the speed at which they need to run, report overheating and trend lube oil pressure, vibration and oil levels.

For ease of use in bright, outdoor conditions, ACES also installed an Allen-Bradley high-bright display screen with protective covers.

Flexible Voltage, Crossing Borders

Another special consideration was accommodating Canada’s 24V standards. ACES is a UL 508A certified shop, a standard which translates to Canada, so all parts sailed through customs. ACES builds steam generator control panels for shipping to all parts of the globe, including Africa and South America, and is conversant with all the pertinent regulations.


As with all generators running the ACES FlexSteam Control System, the Canadian customer enjoys remote monitoring, emissions control, historical data collection, and the ability to refine their steam-to-fuel ratio. These generators run on natural gas, but FlexSteam controlled panels can also run propane, oil or diesel-powered generators.

No matter the age of your generator or the number of pounds of steam you need to generate, starting with the FlexSteam Control System allows a quicker turnaround, along with all the customizations you need for your special application. Contact ACES to learn how FlexSteam can work with your generator.