While we are getting out of the fossil fuel industry, more improvements are still being made in how we use oil and gas -- sometimes accidentally. A professor at the University of Calgary was able to discover a safer way to transport petroleum, which has been a hazard to the environment for many years. It’s not expected to fully replace the convenience of pipelines, but it could provide a safer, alternative way to get the job done.
Ian Gates, who works at the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, was attempting to upgrade bitumen in the laboratory. Bitumen is a mixture of hydrocarbons left over after oil is distilled. Traditionally, this material is used to create hard surfaces like road blacktops. However, in the process they actually degraded it, creating a thick, gummy mixture.
By doing this, petroleum could be captured as the mixture hardens. Gates and his team were able to form pebbles of oil that would harden by themselves. These balls of bitumen safely stored oil that could end up being shipped in its new form. According to Futurism, once they’ve been transported, “the pellets can be reconstituted back into bitumen using a light oil produced during the pellet-creation process.”