Electromagnetic (EM) heating holds a large potential in heavy oil recovery since it can reduce carbon emission and avoid excessive water usage, and is applicable for water hostile reservoirs such as shale oil reservoirs. Combining solvent injection and EM heating might further reduce the energy intensity of the process. The merits of using solvent in EM heating include diluting heavy oil and thereby increasing its mobility, serving as a heat carrier by reinforcing heat convection in porous media and facilitating gravity drainage by forming a vapor chamber. Detailed experimental investigations are needed to investigate the mechanism of such a complex process and to specify the most influential factors of this hybrid and expensive process to determine optimal operational conditions. In this study, we conduct a series of laboratory experiments to investigate the mechanisms of combined EM heating and solvent assisted gravity drainage for heavy oil recovery.
During experiments, sand pack samples contained in Buchner filter funnel are placed in a microwave oven. Solvent injection can be initiated together with EM heating to simulate the hybrid process of combined EM heating and solvent assisted gravity drainage. We investigate the effects of influential factors on the process efficiency, including initial water saturation, solvent types (n-hexane and n-octane), introduction methods of solvents (injection or premixed with oil), combination strategies of solvent injection and EM heating (simultaneous or alternate means), and EM heating power. Temperatures of the sand pack and oil recoveries are simultaneously recorded. Experimental results show that combined EM heating and solvent assisted gravity drainage could effectively enhance heavy oil recovery compared with EM heating or solvent use alone. A higher heating power provides a faster temperature rise and earlier oil production in the sand pack. Moderate initial water saturation could increase the heating speed, leading to a higher oil recovery. Solvent injection can further enhance the viscosity reduction and swelling effect of heavy oil due to EM heating. Compared with n-hexane, n-octane provides higher vertical displacement efficiency and oil recovery under the same experimental conditions. Alternate EMH and solvent injection is more cost effective due to the lower energy consumption compared to the simultaneous EM heating and solvent injection.