Evaluation of Diffusion of Light Hydrocarbon Solvents in Bitumen

Diedro, F., Bryan, J., Kryuchkov, S., Kantzas, A.

DOI: 10.2118/174424-MS
SPE 174424, presented at the SPE Canada Heavy Oil Technical Conference, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, June 9–11, 2015.


Solvent-based processes are often used as potential recovery agents in bitumen systems, with and without the addition of heat to the solvent. Solvents can sometimes be applied as a liquid phase, during SAGD start-up operations or processes aimed at developing injectivity into the oil. Light hydrocarbon liquids are traditionally tested for this application. Solvent injection may also occur in a vapour state and its objective is to reduce oil viscosity and improve mobility of bitumen under low temperatures <100°C. In general, hydrocarbon solvents such as propane are often used for this application. The objective of this study is to conduct CT-based measurement of static mixing of bitumen and both liquid and vapour phase solvents, and to quantify some of the time-dependent changes that occur during solvent mixing with bitumen.

Diffusion experiments have been conducted with propane and DME (vapour phase) and with propane, DME, pentane and toluene (liquid phase) solvent systems. Solvents are mixed with medium viscosity Peace River bitumen and high viscosity Grosmont bitumen. The Tests are run under constant pressure and temperature, and Computer-Assisted Tomography (CT) is used to monitor mass transfer of solvent into oil as a function of time. The outcome of this study is measurements of mass transfer rates of solvent into oil, and the degree of oil phase swelling during the tests.

During solvent injection processes in the field, the rate of mixing is a key parameter that will help in deciding which solvent is optimal for different processes. This study focuses on the rate of solvent mixing with oil. In vapour phase solvent systems, the analysis of the CT images allows for an understanding of the impact of oil phase swelling on the effective rate of penetration of solvent into oil. Overall, the test data provided in this work demonstrates that DME mixes into oil faster than other solvents, and leads to more swelling in a vapour solvent-bitumen system. The analysis of CT data provides an understanding of concentration-dependent diffusion coefficients and limitations from predicting mass transfer using constant coefficients in liquid and vapour solvent systems.

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