Saturday, July 30, 2011

Canadian OilSands: A Cleaner More Bountiful Bitumen

Canadian oilsands producers are making progress on many fronts, to produce a cleaner and more environmentally friendly product, in ever greater quantities. Brian Wang discusses the N-Solv Process, an in situ bitumen extraction process that does not require water and uses 85% less energy.
NSolv Image via NBF
In N-Solv, heated solvent vapour is injected at moderate pressures into the gravity drainage chamber. The vapour flows from the injection well to the colder perimeter of the chamber where it condenses, delivering heat and fresh solvent directly to the bitumen extraction interface. The N-Solv extraction temperature and pressure are very gentle compared to in situ steam processes. The use of solvent also preferentially extracts the valuable components in the bitumen while the problematic high molecular weight coke forming species (asphaltenes) are left behind. The condensed solvent and oil then drain by gravity to the bottom of the chamber and are recovered via the production well.

The in situ solvent deasphalting is very selective and leaves the asphaltenes evenly dispersed throughout the extracted portion of the chamber. Post extraction core analyses show that the residue contains 60 to 70% asphaltenes. By leaving the majority of the asphaltenes behind the produced oil contains less sulphur, heavy metals (zinc, vanadium, iron) and carbon residue. This partially upgrades the oil to 13-16°API from a value of approximately 8°API for the raw bitumen. The produced oil is also less viscous, thus it requires less diluent for pipeline transportation to the refinery. _NSolv_via_NBF
Another promising water-free approach to the clean extraction of oil sands bitumen, is the ionic liquid approach. This process was developed by scientists at Penn State.

Oilsands producers are also making progress in cleaning up oil sands tailings, with the formation of the Oil Sands Tailings Consortium. More information here.

Current oil sands production is roughly 1.5 mbpd, with projects online slated to ramp production up to 7.5 mbpd -- a significant contribution to global oil production.

The United States is coming to rely on the growing supply of bitumen sourced oil, although the Obama government has been trying to shut down US importation and consumption of oil sands from its earliest days in power. If Obama's regime rejects Canadian oilsands, the Chinese market is more than willing to take up the slack. Either way, the future for Canada's oil provinces appears very promising, both economically and environmentally.



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