Crude bitumen extracted from the Canadian oil sands has a high viscosity, so typically it does not flow at normal pipeline temperatures. After extraction the bitumen can be mixed with a diluent (refined naphtha, condensate or SCO) before being pumped by pipeline to a refinery for processing. Alternatively the bitumen can be processed to either improve the viscosity, produce a higher value synthetic crude oil (SCO), or fully finished products before export. These additional costs can significantly impact the overall economics of bitumen extraction.

The Veba Combi-Cracking™ (VCC™) process is a proven slurry based hydrogen addition technology able to process refinery residues, heavy crude oil and even coal. Commonly found in a refinery environment it is also ideally suited to field upgrading, since it can be tailored to produce directly marketable products, a high quality synthetic crude oil, or simply provide viscosity reduction for easy transportation.

This paper shows that the VCC™ technology is ideally suited to field upgrading of bitumen. With an Athabasca Bitumen feedstock the VCC™ process can achieve greater than 90% conversion of asphaltenes, and a 95% overall conversion of the 524°C+ material to desirable products, in a single pass. This paper also shows an improvement in overall efficiency and minimisation of undesirable products when compared to other common field upgrading processes. With simple changes to the flowsheet it is capable of producing high quality finished products (Naphtha: 1 ppm S, Diesel: <10 ppm S, Cetane >45, VGO: <100 ppm S, Metals <1 ppm), a fully upgraded syncrude, or alternatively provide significant viscosity reduction (example heavy crude VR reduced from 145, 800 cSt to 3.0 cSt) for export by pipeline.

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