Upgrading Oil Sands and Heavy Oil

Upgrading oil sands and heavy oil is an essential part of oil sands development as it adds tremendous value to the raw resource. It allows it to be further processed into fuels and lubricants at existing refineries, and used as feedstock in petrochemical plants — most of which are not engineered to handle these heavy feedstock.

Upgrading research and development conducted at CanmetENERGY forms the basis for influencing the environmental policy and regulation of future Canadian oils sands developments. These technologies developed at CanmetENERGY and then commercialized by industry collaborators will increase efficiencies in hydrogen and water use and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Focus is also placed on the processes associated with oil sands development while providing a safe and secure energy source to fill the widening gap between our future energy supply and demand requirements.

Petroleum upgrading represents a suite of physical and chemical processes whereby raw extra heavy oil and bitumen extracted from oil sands are transformed into synthetic crude oil.

Federal and provincial research scientists and engineers, in collaboration with our industry and academic collaborators, are currently working on a number of cutting-edge research and development projects. The scope of these projects covers a wide range of subjects including: upgrading and refining process development, process modelling simulation and optimization, exploratory chemistry and catalysis, and bioprocessing upstream decay and residue formation mitigation. The research and development projects aim to:

  • Improve process efficiency
  • Reduce energy consumption
  • Produce cleaner transportation fuels from bitumen derived feedstock
  • Reduce green house gas emissions

The gradual depletion of the world’s lighter petroleum resources and the increasing prices for these commodities means a rising need to process alternative heavier feedstock. These alternatives include extra heavy oil, bitumen from oil sands, and residues from light and moderate crude oil refining and complement the work being done at CanmetENERGY.

CanmetENERGY is recognized as a national and international leader in upgrading research as evidenced by:

  • NCUT (National Centre for Upgrading Technology) long-term joint Federal and Provincial partnership
  • Principle leader of federal government and academic knowledge-sharing communities
  • Collaborations with other government departments and academia
  • Cost-recovery research, development and demonstration collaborations with national and international companies that will provide a "green lens" on innovative made-in-Canada upgrading technology solutions that benefit future generations of Canadians and our environment

Managed by CanmetENERGY at the Devon (Alberta) research centre.