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Viscosity Reduction and Upgrading of Athabasca Oilsands Bitumen by Natural Zeolite Cracking

Authors: Wei Wang, Abu S.M. Junaid, Christopher Street, Moshfiqur Rahman, Matt Gersbach, Sarah Zhou, William McCaffrey, Steven M. Kuznicki


Oilsands bitumen is an extremely important source of energy for North America. However, due to the presence of large molecules such as asphaltenes, the density and viscosity of the bitumen recovered from these sands are much higher than those of conventional crude oil. As a result the extracted bitumen has to be diluted with expensive solvents, or thermochemically upgraded in large, capital-intensive conventional upgrading facilities prior to pipeline transport. This study demonstrates that globally abundant natural zeolites such as clinoptilolite from Saint Clouds, New Mexico and Ca-chabazite from Bowie, Arizona can be used as very effective reagents for cracking and visbreaking of oilsands bitumen. Natural zeolite cracked oilsands bitumen products are highly recoverable (up to ~ 83%) using light hydrocarbons such as pentane, which indicates substantial conversion of heavier fractions to lighter components. The resultant liquid products are much less viscous, and have lighter product distribution compared to those produced from pure thermal treatment. These natural minerals impart similar effect on industrially extracted Athabasca bitumen.

Keywords: cracking, upgrading, natural zeolites, Viscosity reduction, Oilsands Bitumen

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