A key step in extracting value from Alberta oil sands is separating bitumen from sands that contain very fine clay particles. Currently, water is used as the extraction agent, with solid particles falling out below and bitumen rising to the top in initial separation processes.
Given the desire to reduce water use in the extraction process, we hope to design a non-aqueous solvent capable of selectively separating bitumen from the solid particles. The latest computational chemistry methods and an experimental technique called inverse gas chromatography (IGC) are part of the toolkit we are applying to this challenge.
In the past year the team has finished calculations on the adsorption energies of alkanes, benzene and water on carious silica and clay surfaces, and performed IGC measurements on selective solvents on silica and clay surfaces.
The success of this project will mean less water use, fewer issues with tailings ponds and perhaps a replacement for the flotation approach to separation.
Principal Investigator: Philip Choi
Project Team: Nayef Daher, Ali Javaher, Xiao Ni, Xu Wang, Chunlin Li, Anchal Samtani
Project Number: COSI 2006-01
Close Date: April 30, 2010