In-situ combustion (ISC) is a successful method with great potential for thermal enhanced oil recovery. Field applications of ISC are limited, however, because the process is complex and not well-understood. A significant open question for ISC is the formation of coke or "fuel" in correct quantities that is sufficiently reactive to sustain combustion. We study ISC from a laboratory perspective in 1 m long combustion tubes that allow the monitoring of the progress of the combustion front by use of X-ray computed tomography (CT) and temperature profiles. Two crude oils—12°API (986 kg/m3) and 9°API (1007 kg/m3)—are studied. Cross-sectional images of oil movement and banking in situ are obtained through the appropriate analysis of the spatially and temporally varying CT numbers. Combustion-tube runs are quenched before front breakthrough at the production end, thereby permitting a post-mortem analysis of combustion products and, in particular, the fuel (coke and coke-like residues) just downstream of the combustion front. Fuel is analyzed with both scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). XPS and SEM results are used to identify the shape, texture, and elemental composition of fuel in the X-ray CT images. The SEM and XPS results aid efforts to differentiate among combustion-tube results with significant and negligible amounts of clay minerals. Initial results indicate that clays increase the surface area of fuel deposits formed, and this aids combustion. In addition, comparisons are made of coke-like residues formed during experiments under an inert nitrogen atmosphere and from in-situ combustion. Study results contribute to an improved mechanistic understanding of ISC, fuel formation, and the role of mineral substrates in either aiding or impeding combustion. CT imaging permits inference of the width and movement of the fuel zone in situ.

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