QS Energy has shown in new field tests that an electric jolt applied to bitumen could reduce the need for costly diluent needed to pipeline the viscous crude to distant markets, the Santa Barbara, California-based company said this week.
QS Energy’s Applied Oil Technology (AOT) system, developed in partnership with scientists at Temple University in Philadelphia, uses an electrical charge to coalesce microscopic particles native to unrefined oil, thereby reducing viscosity. The company said AOT could measurably reduce the viscosity of synthetic crude oil, offering pipeline operators the potential to improve flow volume, reduce reliance on diluents, and meet carbon emission reduction goals and other measurable operational efficiencies.
QS Energy recently developed a miniaturized AOT system which replicates the company’s full-scale vessels designed for use on high volume commercial crude oil pipelines. The field tests conducted on diluted bitumen, or dilbit, used the miniaturized version, which allows the company to readily test in the field rather than sending oil products to the lab or shipping a full scale system to field locations.
"Through collaboration with an upstream customer we've established a strong performance benchmark for AOT on oilsands products, achieving results on par with laboratory testing conducted at Temple University by Dr. Rongjia Tao, a leading researcher in the development of technologies based on the use of electrorheological principles," said Greggory M. Bigger, QS Energy chief executive officer and chairman.
"In the lab, we have routinely attained viscosity reduction of similar degree on super heavy, heavy and ultra-light crude oils ranging from 15 per cent to more than 40 per cent. Though we are restricted from disclosing specific details of this in-field test, we can report that they correlated well with laboratory results and full-scale testing performed on closed-loop and commercial pipelines."
In initial field tests on a closed-loop pipeline by the U.S. Department of Energy at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center, viscosity reductions greater than 56 per cent on a medium crude oil product were recorded. A more recent commercial deployment of a four-vessel AOT midstream system on a high-volume, mid-continent pipeline achieved viscosity reductions better than 20 per cent on heavy crude oils, results that were independently verified by third parties.
The bulk of the bitumen and dilbit produced in the region and diluent used as a thinner are primarily transported by the Cold Lake, Corridor and Polaris pipeline systems. With AOT's efficacy now tested on a variety of oilsands samples, its ability to significantly reduce the viscosity of bitumen and its derivatives could help maximize the intended benefits of carbon-pricing within the Alberta energy sector, the company said.
"This month's successful benchmark test on diluted crude oil from oilsands sources demonstrates strong potential for reducing operational overhead costs for our customers and helping them meet CO2 and methane reduction goals which is particularly relevant with the availability of tax credits, rebates and other financial incentives through carbon levy and carbon pricing programs," Bigger said in a statement.
"Because AOT is designed specifically to increase pipeline efficiency and throughput and reduce reliance on diluent and other additives, it can deliver substantial savings by lessening the degree by which these thinning agents displace feedstock and take up valuable pipeline capacity. This factor alone can drive tens of thousands of dollars a day to the bottom line of producers when AOT is in use on a high-volume pipeline transporting 100,000 to 200,000 barrels per day."
Bigger added that with the introduction of Alberta's Carbon Levy on January 1, the retrofitting of AOT for use in treating Alberta oilsands could not be more timely.
"By improving flow, countering pipeline pressure drop, and increasing pipeline capacity, AOT can potentially lower pump station power consumption and thereby reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions," he said. "Based on the support of Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan by the largest producers active in the oilsands, we agree that revenue generated from market-driven carbon pricing programs will encourage the development and use of GHG-reducing technologies and position Alberta as a recognized global leader in the application of clean technologies in the oil and gas industry."