Multiphase Systems

CanmetENERGY’s Multiphase Systems Team aims to improve the efficiency of oil sand processing by studying the various sub-processes and multiphase systems, which occurs in primary separation and bitumen froth treatment.

Our scientists and researchers perform experimental studies at microscopic, bench and pilot scales to acquire a comprehensive picture of the physical and chemical phenomena involved when processing oil sands. Computer models are also developed to increase our understanding of process fundamentals and to allow the prediction of large-scale behavior.

Oil sand is a complex multiphase system (i.e. a mixture of at least two components) with an average composition of approximately 10-12% bitumen, 83% sand, 3% clays, and other mineral solids, and 4% water. The processing of mined oil sand ore to produce bitumen suitable as a feedstock in an upgrader or refinery occurs in two stages: primary extraction and froth treatment.

In the primary extraction stage, the oil sand is mixed with hot water to facilitate the liberation of bitumen from the sand matrix. The bitumen is recovered through a flotation process, where the bitumen droplets become attached to air bubbles and float to the top of the vessel to be removed as a product called froth. After the froth is deaerated, it is a highly viscous fluid typically consisting of 60% bitumen, 30% water and 10% solids. This mixture is not suitable even for pipelining; therefore it must undergo a certain process called froth treatment.

Managed by CanmetENERGY at the Devon (Alberta) research centre