DOE: Utah company’s heavy oil technology licensed to Calgary firm

A Utah company’s technology that uses an alkali metal in combination with hydrogen or methane to remove sulfur, nitrogen, and metals from bitumen and other heavy oils has been licensed to a Calgary upgrading company, the US Department of Energy announced.

The technology also encompasses an electrolytic process to regenerate the alkali metal and separate sulfur and metals, DOE’s Fossil Energy Office (FEO) said on Apr. 9.

Ceramatec Inc. of West Valley City, Utah, developed the technology with assistance from DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratories, FEO said. The process has been licensed to Western Hydrogen Ltd., Calgary, for upgrading Canadian bitumen or heavy oil, it added.

Western Hydrogen, in turn, has formed a new company, Field Upgrading, also of Calgary, to develop and commercialize the technology, FEO indicated.

It said Ceramatec tested the process on heavy oil, oil shale, and oil sands feedstocks with a wide range of densities, boiling curves, and sulfur, nitrogen, metals, and asphaltene contents.

In nearly 6,000 hr of continuous operation, the process consistently removed sulfur and heavy metals, according to FEO. Nitrogen removal was also achieved, but not to the reduction levels of sulfur, it said.

Ceramatec’s new technology potentially could use direct quality improvements to increase a heavy oil or bitumen-based refining feedstock’s value, and reduce the need for expensive capital processing equipment expansions at refineries, such as fluid catalytic crackers and desulfurization units, FEO noted.

“Using methane as the process feed-gas has the added advantage of reducing the carbon footprint of oil-upgrading by avoiding emissions from steam methane reforming,” it said. “The process also eliminates sulfur oxide emissions by erasing the need for conventional sulfur recovery processes.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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