Steam/solvent coinjection has been studied and pilot tested as a potential method to improve steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) for bitumen recovery. Reliable design of coinjection requires reliable pressure/volume/temperature (PVT) data for bitumen/solvent/water mixtures, which are scarce and fragmentary in the literature.
The main objective of this research was to present a new set of PVT and multiphase data for n-butane/Athabasca-bitumen/water mixtures at pressures up to 10 MPa and temperatures up to 160°C. Experiments were conducted with a conventional PVT apparatus. The data presented include multiphase equilibria up to four coexisting phases and liquid densities for 100% bitumen, two mixtures of n-butane/bitumen, and one mixture of n-butane/bitumen/water.
Liquid/liquid separation of hydrocarbons was experimentally observed at the n-butane concentration of 97 mol% in the n-butane/bitumen system with/without water, for a wide range of temperatures at operating pressures for expanding-solvent SAGD (ES-SAGD). This may indicate the limited solubility of n-butane in bitumen even when a high level of accumulation of n-butane takes place near a chamber edge in ES-SAGD for Athabasca bitumen. The multiphase transition that involves appearance/disappearance of the vapor phase was observed to occur near the vapor pressure of n-butane or its extension. Such phase transition occurs at a higher pressure in the presence of water, because of its vapor pressure, than in the absence of water at a given temperature. This is the first time four coexisting phases are reported for n-butane/Athabasca-bitumen/water mixtures at temperature/pressure conditions relevant to ES-SAGD.