The non-thermal solvent-based processes for bitumen extraction consume less energy and water, and thus, have less impacts on the environment compared with the steam-based thermal processes. The objective of this paper is to investigate the mechanisms responsible for propane transport into and bitumen production from oil-sand core samples during the cyclic solvent injection (CSI). We use a state-of-the-art high-pressure and high-temperature (HPHT) visualization cell to investigate non-equilibrium propane-bitumen interactions during CSI. We inject propane into the cell containing a bitumen-saturated core plug representing in-situ reservoir conditions. Three sets of tests with different propane vapor (C3(v)) to liquid (C3(l)) ratio are conducted (set 1 with C3(l), set 2 with C3(l)-C3(v) mixture, and set 3 with C3(v)). After the CSI tests, the final bitumen recovery factor is calculated by the weight-balance method and the precipitated asphaltene content caused by propane-bitumen interactions is also measured using a distillation apparatus.

When the core is fully immersed in C3(l), the cell pressure rapidly declines during the early soaking process, and then, it declines gradually. However, no obvious pressure decline can be observed when C3(v) is present in the system. This can be explained by the higher compressibility of C3(v) compared to C3(l), leading to a less significant pressure decline during the soaking period. A light hydrocarbon phase is produced from the core at the end of the depletion process, indicating the extraction of light components of oil by propane even at low-temperature conditions. The bitumen recovery factor is the lowest (11.93%) in set 1 when the core is soaked in C3(l), while that is the highest (14.73%) in set 3 when the core is soaked in C3(v). Also, the bitumen production stops quickly at the early soaking period in set 1. This is because asphaltene precipitation is more significant when the C3(l) is present in the system. The propane density in liquid state is higher than that in vapor state, leading to more bitumen-propane interactions and more asphaltene precipitation. The precipitated asphaltene blocks the pore network and inhibits bitumen production. Our results show that increasing C3(v) to C3(v) ratio decreases the amount of asphaltene precipitation, and in turn, increases bitumen recovery factor.

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