Low-cost catalysts and methodologies for partial upgrading of bitumen
In this collaborative program, the PI's will address the fundamental science and engineering technology for 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 chemical and/or physical transformations of bitumen, inducing nanoaggregate dissociation and dissolution in the bitumen matrix. To accomplish this, two key investigations will be pursued:
(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.
(2) Directed chemical transformation/deaggregation of asphaltenes. Asphaltene-selective chemical processing of bitumen will be developed, by adapting reactions known to be selective for polar (N, O, S) and polycyclic heteroaromatic compounds, abundant only in the asphaltene fraction.
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.