A major hurdle in the quest to replace water with hydrocarbon solvent in the bitumen extraction process is the loss of solvent to sand grains discarded after the extraction process. A solution to this challenge would not only reduce water use but also cut the cost of replacing lost solvents and prevent any release of volatile organic components to the environment.
Our research is aimed at ensuring there is no residual solvent in the sand grains destined ultimately for use in land reclamation. The intent is to find microemulsions that will dissolve residual oil trapped in the solids (much like washing greasy dishes with soap and water). However, this washing process must use as little water as possible.
We have found that even though oil and water don't mix, it is possible to create "nano-mingling" on a sub-micron scale, resulting in what is, for all intents and purposes, solubilisation of oil and water. Research continues also in the areas of understanding the nanostructures of microemulsion phases and the forces of attraction and separation at the oil-water interface.
Principal Investigator: Tony Yeung
Research Team: Shima Afshar, Famaz Mani, Weikang Liu, Dave Sharp, Kavithaa Loganathan
Project Number: COSI 2007-04
Close Date: August 31, 2010