A Heavy- to Light-Crude-Oil Upgrading Process
- Karen Bybee (Assistant Technology Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- December 2007
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 51 - 53
- 2007. Society of Petroleum Engineers
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- 73 since 2007
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This article, written by Assistant Technology Editor Karen Bybee, contains highlights of paper SPE 108678, "Performance of a Heavy- to Light-Crude-Oil Upgrading Process," by E.J. Veith, Ivanhoe Energy, prepared for the 2007 SPE International Oil Conference and Exhibition in Mexico, Veracruz, Mexico, 27-30 June.
A proprietary heavy- to light-oil (HTL) upgrading technology is designed to process heavy oil cost effectively in the field and provide a stable, significantly upgraded synthetic-oil product along with byproduct energy that can be used to generate steam or electricity. Since the commissioning of a commercial demonstration facility (CDF) for upgrading heavy oil in 2005, a number of crude oils and vacuum-tower-bottoms (VTBs) feedstocks have been tested. Analysis of CDF performance shows that the HTL process is capable of delivering high yields of significantly upgraded product.
In mid-2005, Ivanhoe Energy acquired a new patented process, called rapid thermal (RT) processing, for the field-located upgrading of heavy oil and bitumen. Included in the acquisition was a new CDF in the San Joaquin Valley in southern California that demonstrates a processing capacity of approximately 1,000 B/D of heavy crude oil. Fig. 1 shows the CDF in the Belridge oil field. There are significant accumulations of heavy crude and bitumen throughout the world that can be targeted by this technology. Both Canada and Venezuela have extensive heavy-oil reserves that compare in size to current reserves in the Middle East. As conventional lighter-crude-oil supplies decline, they will need to be replaced by heavier crudes.
New residue-processing capacity could be added to existing refineries, or it could be built in separate, standalone upgrading facilities. If the oil is too heavy to transport by pipeline, and/or there is the need for heat or energy at the production site, heavy-oil upgrading in the field is attractive and may avoid extensive modifications of existing refineries. Traditional residue processing such as coking or hydrocracking are very expensive processes and require a large scale to be viable. The HTL technology would provide a lower-cost, simpler residue-processing option compatible with field development.
The development of the RT processing technology began in the early 1980s when it was discovered that a broad array of carbonaceous feedstocks (e.g., wood and heavy oil) could be thermally cracked to obtain valuable products at residence times of a few seconds. The initial commercial focus of the technology, beginning in 1989, was aimed at conversion of wood and wood residues to value-added fuels and chemicals. Seven commercial biomass plants based on this technology have been in operation for many years.
As the biomass side of the business grew and operational and design parameters were optimized, the focus turned toward petroleum feedstocks. The petroleum application of the technology was demonstrated in a pilot plant in Ottawa, Canada, on more than 90 experimental runs using a number of different crude oils and bitumen between 1999 and 2002. Because it was believed that the technology had relatively low capital and operating costs compared to conventional carbon rejection technologies, such as delayed coking, commercialization of the HTL process was initiated.
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