Non-thermal Recovery of Bitumen using Cyclic Surfactant Solubilization



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Natural bitumen and extra heavy oil resources accounts for approximately two-thirds of the known fossil fuel resources in the world. Existing recovery processes for these resources have been criticized for their negative impact on the environment. This study presents a novel approach - cyclic surfactant solubilization. The process involves solubilizing heavy oil in a low viscosity single phase microemulsion using a surfactant formulation. The surfactant formulation can be recovered for reinjection after oil separation and recovery. It is a non-thermal sustainable approach. Initially, a proof-of-concept study was conducted using a model oil, namely coal tar. Based on phase behavior studies a suitable surfactant formulation was selected and flow experiments were conducted. The study established that oil recovery is possible by producing only single phase microemulsion.
The next step was to apply the process on real field samples. Oil sands samples were acquired from Alberta, Canada for that purpose. Bitumen was extracted from the sand to perform oil characterization and phase behavior studies. However, flow experiments performed with the selected surfactant formulation did not yield expected results, which led to phase behavior experiments with oil sands instead of extracted oil. The formulation was optimized based on these observations and a set of flow experiments were conducted which resulted in improved recoveries.
A part of the cyclic surfactant solubilization process is surfactant recovery and recycle. This study also explores various pathways to achieve this. The economics of the process may be improved with the development of surfactant recovery processes.
A green alternative to recover bitumen from these resources is key for fulfilling future energy demands and for keeping climate change in check. The cyclic surfactant solubilization process provides a feasible low-energy alternative to thermal processes especially in countries like Venezuela and Canada, where majority of fossil fuel resources are available in the form of natural bitumen or extra heavy oil.



Bitumen, Extra Heavy Oil, Single Phase microemulsion, Cyclic surfactant solubilization, CSS, Surfactant recovery, Non-thermal, Sustainability


Portions of this document appear in: Sharma, Pushpesh, Konstantinos Kostarelos, and Sujeewa S. Palayangoda. "Hydrocarbon Recovery From Oil Sands by Cyclic Surfactant Solubilization in Single-Phase Microemulsions." Journal of Energy Resources Technology 141, no. 8 (2019): 085001.