Thermal and miscible methods are commonly used for in-situ recovery of heavy oil and bitumen. Both techniques have their own limitations and associated shortcomings, often times yielding an inefficient process. The most common thermal method is steam injection, which is highly energy intensive. Steam generation costs and water production affect the economics of the thermal technique adversely. On the other hand, miscible methods are energy effective but their economics depends on the solvent retrieval. Various combinations of these two techniques such as co-or alternate injection of steam and solvent have been proposed as a solution, but no optimum method has yet been developed.
Thermal and miscible methods can be combined by co-injecting solvent with steam or injecting solvent into a pre-heated reservoir. Current work was undertaken to study the performance of solvents at higher temperatures for heavy oil/bitumen recovery. Glass bead packs and Berea sandstone cores were used in the experiments to represent different types of pore structures, porosity and permeability. After saturating with heavy oil, the samples were exposed to the vapor of paraffinic solvents (propane and butane) at a temperature above the boiling point of the solvent, and a constant pressure of 1500 kPa. A mechanical convection oven was used to maintain constant temperature across the setup. The setup was designed in such a way that a reasonably long sample (up to 30 cm) can be tested to analyze the gravity effect. The oil recovered from each of these experiments was collected using a specifically designed collection system and analyzed for composition, viscosity and asphaltene content.
The amount of oil recovered in each case was also analyzed and the quantity and nature of asphaltene precipitated with each of the tested solvents under the prevailing temperature and pressure of the experiment was reported. Optimal conditions for each solvent type were identified for the highest ultimate recovery. It was observed that recovery decreased with increasing temperature and pressure of the system. It was also noticed that butane diluted the oil more than propane which resulted in lower asphaltene content and viscosity of oil produced with butane as a solvent.