With increasing world demand for energy, greater attention has been placed on the exploitation of the huge existing resources of heavy oil and bitumen. Although thermal in-situ recovery methods such as steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) have been very successful in exploiting such resources, the thermal efficiency of SAGD, its greenhouse gas emissions and water requirements remain major concerns.
Co-injection of solvent with steam shows promise for enhancing oil rates as well as reducing energy and water consumption with correspondingly lower environmental impacts. In hybrid steam-solvent methods, there is a balance between the solubility of the solvent and its ability to reduce bitumen viscosity. Proper selection of the solvent for the reservoir operating conditions is key for optimizing process efficiency and maximizing performance improvement over the steam-only method.
Convective mixing at the edge of the steam chamber enhances heat and mass transfer rates which increases oil mobility and production rate. In this study, the convective mixing at the steam-bitumen interface is examined using theoretical stability analysis of the thermal-solvent boundary layer. Several alkane solvents were compared based on the time required for the onset of the buoyancy-driven instabilities in the system. The results show that there is a higher degree of convective mixing for some intermediate solvents, which is in agreement with reported laboratory and simulation results. The onset of convective mixing and the wavelength of the instabilities are obtained as a function of reservoir and fluid properties for various solvents.
These results can aid in the screening and selection of appropriate solvent additives to steam for a given reservoir and bitumen properties; also this analysis can be applied for mixtures of solvents to optimize the overall efficiency of the steam-solvent recovery method.