Ivanhoe Energy upgrades heavy oil bottoms

By OGJ editors
Houston, Mar. 16 -- Ivanhoe Energy Inc. has upgraded vacuum tower bottoms (VTBs) derived from heavy oil at its heavy-oil upgrading demonstration facility in California.

VTBs are the heaviest, most viscous component of crude oil, often less than 7º gravity. Canada's Athabasca bitumen typically contains 45-55% VTBs, with the rest lighter fractions of oil. California raw heavy crude contains about 33% VTBs, Ivanhoe said.

In the demonstration, Ivanhoe's heavy oil upgrading technology, operating in what the company calls its "high-yield" configuration, converted VTBs with viscosity of about 300,000 cp at 140º F. into a product of 1,300 cp at the same temperature.

After processing, the upgraded VTBs could be blended with lighter fractions separated by earlier processing to yield a product with viscosity low enough to flow in a pipeline without the need for diluent or heating, Ivanhoe said. It said the overall product blended yield from the demonstration run would exceed 90%.

In January, Ivanhoe ran whole California heavy crude through its 1,000 b/d demonstration facility in Belridge heavy oil field near Bakersfield (OGJ, Apr. 11, 2005, p. 24).

"The most recent run was a significant step forward in that the feedstock processed was dramatically heavier and more viscous (i.e. a solid rather than a liquid at room temperature) than the whole heavy crude run in January," Ivanhoe said. The recent test also was significant because it used a process configuration intended for specific commercial applications—those aimed mainly at viscosity reduction and maximizing liquid volume yields, the company said.

Next steps will be processing VTBs in a "high-quality" configuration and conducting extended runs. The high-quality configuration adds recycle operations and will be used where both high product quality and maximum byproduct energy are needed.

Ivanhoe said equipment additions and upgrades needed for the next steps will require 4-6 weeks.

It said data from the demonstration runs will enable it to start site-specific design and engineering for commercial 10,000-15,000 b/d plants.

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