Institute for Oil Sands Innovation (IOSI)

Interfacial Forces in Solvent Extraction Processes

The extraction of oil from oil sands in open mines is a process that involves hot water to promote the oil-particle (sand) separation. Most Canadian oil sands have a connate water layer between the particle and the oil that facilitates this oil-particle separation. However, when this water layer is absent, as in Utah oil sands and in the oil sand tailings with high residual oil content, the removal of oil with the hot water process is limited. Solvent-based extraction processes have been proposed as an alternative that promises high oil recoveries for all types of oil sands and tailings, and low water consumption.

In this project we explore the elements of a hybrid water-solvent extraction featuring simpler (potentially lower energy consumption) solvent-particle separation. Physically, the solvent or oil – particle - water separation involves the balance of interfacial and shear forces at the oil- particle-water interface. Unfortunately little is known about the force balance and there are no fundamental equations or a complete set of dimensionless numbers to describe this balance. In this project we seek to close this gap using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and experimental studies under conditions that simulate hot water and solvent-water extraction methods. These efforts are expected to yield processing maps that combine solvent properties (eg density, viscosity) and operational conditions (eg temperature, solvent/oil ratio, shear, contact time) and with the properties of the substrate (eg particle size, contact angle, oil content) to predict oil recovery. These maps may be used to identify operational conditions featuring low water and energy consumption that can achieve the desired oil recovery.

The experimental studies will concentrate on the use of biodiesel as an organic solvent. Biodiesel has been shown to improve heavy oil recovery and the biodegradability of residual heavy oil in soils.

Principal Investigator: Edgar Acosta
Co-Principal Investigator: Markus Bussmann

Project Number: COSI 2010-01
Close Date: 31 March 2014