Low-cost catalysts and methodologies for partial upgrading of bitumen
In this collaborative program, the PI's address the fundamental chemistry and chemical engineering science to accomplish the partial upgrading of asphaltene-rich heavy petroleum, reducing both viscosity and density to meet or exceed pipeline specifications. Our specific objectives are to develop asphaltene-selective catalytic chemical transformations of bitumen, inducing nanoaggregate asphaltene dissociation, armoatic hydrogenation, an partial hydrodesulfurization of the whole bitumen matrix. To accomplish this, two key investigations can be disclosed:
(1) Asphaltene-selective catalytic hydrogenation/hydrogenolysis. Unprecedented catalysts, designed for selective binding and reduction of extended aromatic and heteroaromatic ring systems, are exploited for selective passivation of the functionality that drives asphaltene aggregation, transforming asphaltene aggregates into soluble naphthenic compounds. Completely new strategies are also under investiagation, including hydrogen-free partial upgrading of bitumen at low temperature.
(2) Directed chemical transformation/deaggregation of asphaltenes. Asphaltene-selective chemical processing of bitumen is also under development. Hydrogen-free electrocatalytic conversion of asphaltenes into desulfurized maltenes is a breakthrough discovery in bitumen science.
In principal, asphaltene-selective upgrading of raw bitumen under mild conditionsraises the prospect of energy-efficient, small-footprint bitumen upgrading at the mine site, eliminating the need for capital-intensive investment, generating higher value products, and offering significant reductions in environmental exposure.