Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability (COSS)

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), Edmonton, Alberta
What the facility does

Works with business and industry to develop technologies that improve the economic and environmental performance of the oil sands industry.

Areas of expertise

The Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability (COSS) bridges the gap between existing oil sands environmental research and relevant solutions with an immediate impact on sustainability. The primary focus of the centre is to enable solutions developed by third-party innovators and small-and-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to be screened, validated, scaled-up, and integrated within a systems-based approach to complex mineable oil sands tailings and water management challenges.

COSS’s 12,000 sq. ft. fully equipped high-tech lab is complemented with an expert team of applied scientists, engineers, technologists and summer students. COSS staff work in collaboration with the oil sands industry, academia, research and development organizations, and third-party innovators to take technology ideas from concept to commercialization.

Our research leads are specialized in variety of areas, including:

  • Tailings treatment
  • Industrial water treatment
  • Oil sands tailings management
  • Chemical evaluation
  • Developing and enhancing oil sands extraction and analytical measurements
  • Screening for tailings treatment
  • Fundamentals of fluid fine tailings
  • Water treatment
  • Impact of clay minerals on oil sands tailings
Research services

Applied Research Projects: We work in partnership with industry to develop solutions to their challenges, with the ability to leverage grant funding in Alberta and Canada to support projects.

Knowledge to Practice Projects: We offer custom training and industry-specific short courses, workshops and seminars.

Fee for Service Technical and Business Projects: We provide access to cutting-edge technology and equipment to assist with product development, commercialization and productivity.

Interactive Visit Program: As a Technology Access Centre, we participate in this program that provides qualified companies up to 20 hours of access to the equipment, facilities and expertise of our centre in order to solve a specific business or technical challenge.

Our existing programs with industry:

  • Suncor’s Permanent Aquatic Storage Structure (PASS) Program - Polymer screening and validation for Suncor’s PASS Application.
  • COSIA’s Membrane Technology Assessment Program (MTAP) - High-temperature, high-pressure membrane assessment program.
  • Online Water Cut Measurement Technology Assessment Program - High temperature, high pressure testing of instruments (oil-in-water loop); high temperature, high pressure testing of sensors (water-in-oil loop).
Sectors of application
  • Chemical industries
  • Clean technology
  • Energy (renewable and fossil)
  • Environmental technologies and related services
  • Mining, minerals and metals



Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatograph with Quadrupole Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer (UHPLC-QTOFMS)

The QTOF is equipped with 3 different ion sources, electrospray ionization (ESI), atmospheric pressure photoionization (APPI) and atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (APCI) to enable a wide variety of samples to be analyzed. The UHPLC enables the separation of components in complex mixtures.

Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer (MALDI-TOF)

Capabilities include characterization of homopolymer and copolymer molecular weight distributions, composition and deconvolution of homopolymer and copolymer mixtures, hydrocarbon analysis quantification and characterization.

X-ray Diffractometer (XRD)

Used for materials characterization such as crystal structure, physical properties of materials and thin film.

Wavelength Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (XRF)

Capabilities include elemental analysis in different kinds of samples: solids, liquid or powder.

Atomic Force Microscope – Raman (AFM-Raman)

Used to link the molecular information obtained by confocal Raman microscopy with the high-resolution surface information (structural and topographic surface imaging on the nanometer scale) acquired by AFM.

Thermal Gravimetric Analyzer (TGA)

Utilized for thermal analysis in which physical and chemical properties of materials changes with temperature, such as decomposition, degradation mechanism, thermal stability, oxidation, combustion.

UV–Vis Spectrophotometer

Analyze a variety of samples by conventional spectroscopy but advanced techniques can be implemented using the fibre optic accessory

Bruker Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR)

FTIR with fixed path; attenuated reflectance and diffuse reflectance cells for the analysis of wide variety of organic compounds, films and powders. Measurement of naphthenic acid content in process affected waters.

Anton Paar SVM 3000 Viscometer

Used to measure the dynamic viscosity and density of oily samples and is equipped with a 48-position auto-sampler

Capillary Suction Timer

Capillary Suction Time (CST) is a commonly used method to measure the filterability and the easiness of removing moisture from slurry and sludge in numerous environmental and industrial applications.

Dissolved and Total Organic/Inorganic Carbon Analyzer (DOC/TOC)

Measures the amount of dissolved or total organic/inorganic carbon present in a liquid or water sample.

Gas Chromatograph (GC)

Four units specializing in sulfur, methane, and simulated distillation gas chromatography (GC):

•    Sulfur GC: Conduct detailed sulfur analysis. Capable of delivering quantitative sulfur results for light hydrocarbon matrices.
•    Simulated Distillation (SIMDIST) GC : Conduct simulated distillation on crude oil samples.
•    GC: General chromatography capabilities for hydrocarbon samples.
•    Greenhouse Gas (GHG) GC : Test samples for greenhouse gases.

Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS)

Perform investigative chemistry work using mass spectroscopy. Able to identify samples with unknown constituents using mass spectroscopy.

Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) System

Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy is an analytical technique used for the detection of chemical elements.

Ion Chromatography (IC) System

Ion chromatography is a method for separating ions based upon their interactions with resin (stationary phase) and the eluent (mobile phase). Used for measuring major anions and cations in process affected waters.

Karl Fischer Titrator

Titration method in chemical analysis that uses coulometric or volumetric titration to determine trace amounts of water in a sample.

CHNS Organic Elemental Analyzer (OEA)

Determination of organic elements – Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Sulfur (CHNS) – by combustion and Oxygen by pyrolysis.

Specific Resistance to Filtration (SRF) apparatus

Used extensively as a measure of dewaterability.

BET Surface Area Analyzer

Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) analysis. Measure surface area of particles.

Benchmark S Heated Oil Centrifuge 

Designed for determining basic sediment and water (BS&W) content in crude oil or refined petroleum products on benchtops at indoor locations without Class I, Division 2 requirements. Fully insulated to prevent heat loss and allow for more accurate temperature control.

  • Canada Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)
  • Alberta Innovates (AI)
  • Ledcor Environmental Solutions Ltd.
  • Suncor Energy Inc.
  • Enbridge Inc.
  • RJ Oil Sands
  • Apex Engineering
  • Nalco Champion (Ecolab)
  • Conetec Investigations Ltd.
  • Switchable Solutions Inc.
  • Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN)
  • University of Alberta
  • Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI)
  • Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN)  



Catalogue of Analytical Methods for Naphthenic Acids Related to Oil Sands Operations, OSRIN Report No. TR-21. 65 pp.


Summary of 2013 Tailings Technology Development and Commercialization Workshop


COSS overview (video)


NAIT is re-launching its Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability with a new applied research chair


NAIT Leading the Way for Oil Sands Wastewater Research


Andrea Sedgwick named Led Ledcor Applied Research Chair in Oil Sands Sustainability


Trudeau on hand to open NAIT’s new Productivity and Innovation Centre


Support for clean water technologies to benefit the oil and gas industry


NAIT: Improving methodologies in measurement could improve oilsands efficiencies


COSS Newsletter (past publications)


Tech-Access Canada profile


COSIA video on oil sands tailings management