SDTC awards Nsolv $13M to commercialize warm solvent technology for heavy oil extraction; 80% reduction in GHG emissions
Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is awarding Nsolv $13 million in grant funding to commercialize its field-tested, proprietary warm solvent technology for in situ heavy oil extraction without the use of steam.
Among its benefits, the technology reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by lowering the amount of energy needed to remove heavy oil from the ground. Nsolv’s process uses zero water and very little natural gas to heat the solvent, resulting in an 80% reduction in GHG emissions compared to existing extraction methods.
These benefits have been realized through lab testing and Nsolv’s pilot project at Fort McKay, Alberta, which produced its 80,000th barrel in January 2016. Nsolv has also been awarded Clean50 and Clean16 awards from Delta Management Group.
Nsolv is in the process of finalizing a partnership with a major heavy oil producer to construct a commercial-scale facility. Nsolv technology performs well, even in today’s low oil price environment, as it is commercially viable at between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels per day. Other extraction methods are not currently commercially viable at this scale.
The technology. Nsolv’s patented technology uses warm solvent vapor to extract bitumen in situ. The Nsolv process supplants existing in situ technologies, such as steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), which rely on significant amounts of water and natural gas. Using solvent vapor offers the added benefit of partial in situ upgrading.
The heated solvent vapor is injected into a bitumen reservoir. Once inside the reservoir, the solvent condenses, subsequently dissolving the bitumen, with the resulting liquids flowing by gravity to a production well.
With Athabasca bitumen, a 25-30 °C temperature rise typically reduces the bitumen viscosity by a factor of 100, Nsolv says. Thus, a small temperature increase to the solvent helps it mobilize and dissolve bitumen to form an ultra-low viscosity fluid that can be produced at high rates.
As bitumen is dissolved into the solvent, valuable components are extracted while coke-forming asphaltenes, sulphur, heavy metals and carbon residue remain in the reservoir. This results in a partially upgraded 13° to 16° API oil (typical bitumen has an API of about 8°) and no coke waste going to landfills.
The process uses commercially proven horizontal-well technology widely implemented in current heavy oil recovery operations.
Nsolv has more than 400 registered patent claims for the various stages of its heated solvent extraction process.