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Genoil Heavy Oil Upgrader Development

GHU® Technology Development History

Starting in May 1998, Genoil (formerly CE3 Technologies Inc.: Canadian Environmental Equipment and Engineering Technologies Inc.) researched innovative processes for the upgrading of heavy crude oils. Because heavy oil reserves account for the majority of total world oil reserves (including non-conventional oils), Genoil had realized that highly efficient processes were required to economically upgrade these heavy oils to lighter products.

To deliver the heavy oil to the market, heavy oil producers blend it with lighter oils, called condensates or diluents. This requires the implementation of an extensive infrastructure to produce the light crude oil and to deliver them to the heavy oil field locations. Further, this concentrated demand for light oil for blending could results in shortages and high prices.

The Genoil concept was to upgrade on-site heavy crude oil to much lighter oil meeting pipeline specifications, eliminating the need for blending, tremendously increasing the value of the heavy oils, and having a process with economically viable capital and operating costs even for a small-scale field unit of 10,000 bpd. Of equal or greater importance was the development of a hydroconversion upgrader technology for refineries for raising the API ° gravity of crude oils to refinery specifications and for recovering the refinery’s heavy residuals. Reduction of sulphur, nitrogen and metals was also a similarly critical goal.

Evaluation of Emerging Technologies for Heavy Oil Upgrading

From May 1998 to January 1999, Genoil researched and evaluated emerging technologies to determine their capabilities for the upgrading of heavy oil. The initial approach was to search for the best parts of other existing technologies and, following in-house improvements, to develop a novel field and refining based upgrading process that would represent a significant advance over current practices.

Genoil evaluated two separate and distinct technologies previously developed to solve other problems in the oil industry. These technologies were the TaBoRR® process from the Western Research Institute in Laramie, WY, and the CAT process, which is typically used to make diesel fuel. Genoil spent considerable time and effort to test and analyze the technical results and economics of these processes. After nine months of research and evaluation of these processes, it was concluded that a major shift in technical practices would be required to offer an economical, yet effective, process for heavy oil upgrading.

From a technical basis, it was determined that the CAT process would not be viable for upgrading heavy oils; therefore, bench-scale experiments were not conducted with this process.

Based on the technical merits of the TaBoRR® process (Tank Bottoms Recovery and Remediation), which is a carbon-rejection method (pyrolysis), bench-scale tests were performed using a heavy oil feedstock (12 °API) to determine the potential yields and product quality. A liquid yield of 77.8 wt% was achieved with an average API gravity of 32.3°. Approximately, 13.9 wt% of the feedstock was converted to hydrocarbon gases, and the final 8.3 wt% of the original feed was produced as carbon-laden solids. However, detailed analyses indicated that a liquid yield of only 77.8 wt% limited the chances of an economic success. In addition, the liquid product was not stable (high olefin and diolefins content). Therefore, it was concluded that while the TaBoRR® process was a technical success for cracking heavy oil, it would be commercially viable only if the liquid yields could be increased.

Genoil GHU® Process Development

In September 1998, Genoil decided to develop its own heavy oil upgrading process, based on a dual approach of visbreaking and hydroprocessing, and, therefore, by adding hydrogen mass, to obtain an increase in the liquid yields. A hydrogenation process should provide more than 100% of the fresh feed volume, instead of the 75-80% of the carbon rejection processes.

To start the conceptual and preliminary design work on a hydrotreating process to upgrade heavy crude oil, Genoil acquired the Visbreaking technology from the Eadie Group and the “Bullet” technology from the Acquasol Corporation. The Eadie Visbreaking technology was developed through extensive pilot plant work conducted in the early 1990’s at the Alberta Research Council. This Eadie Visbreaking technology was modified and enhanced by Genoil. The Bullet technology is a mixing device which maximizes the mass transfer between two fluids. Full dispersion of one fluid into the other fluid is achieved (“micro-molecular mixing”) together with the “super-saturation” of the gas into the liquid. (Although this technology provided excellent results, Genoil has recently replaced it with an even more effective mixing technology.)

Based on these two technologies, Genoil started developing its own heavy oil upgrading process concept, with the primary goal of improving sufficiently the properties of the heavy oils to meet pipeline specifications, removing the need for diluents for transportation and to provide an advanced upgrading technology for refineries increasingly faced with the option of securing heavy feed stock and with the need to recover product residuals.

Key features of the Genoil upgrading are the addition of the hydrogen to the feed stock, and the mixing of the hydrogen with the liquid feed. To confirm this concept, Genoil constructed a laboratory scale prototype vessel together with the appropriate mixing gas/liquid devices. Then, Genoil conducted bench scale tests, at various operating conditions over a period of months, on a Cold Lake Bitumen with an API gravity between 11 and 13°. The main criteria were to achieve high liquid yields and good product stability (no olefins or diolefins). The original Genoil targets were to upgrade the Cold Lake Bitumen from an 11-13° API gravity to an API gravity of 19-20° without a hydrotreating catalyst, to an API gravity of 22-24° with small amounts of catalyst, and to an API gravity of 28-30° with a hydrotreating reactor (hydroconversion).

These bench scale tests confirmed that “mild” hydrocracking (once-through partial conversion with hydrogen) of the heavy oil feed stock was the way to obtain stable products. Typical visbreaking (without hydrogen) would result in an API increase of only 2-3° and in unstable products. With hydrogen addition, not only the product API could be raised further, but also the product stability was improved. The bench scale tests indicated also that addition of hydrogen limited the condensation of asphaltenes, preventing the formation of coke, allowing higher conversion levels, and resulting in higher product stability together with some desulphurization of the products.

After testing of the proprietary mixing vessel and devices, the next phase of the program was to develop a computer model to test the Genoil concept. Over three months, several simulation studies were conducted to optimize the initial design concept. The simulation results enabled the updating of the process engineering and instrumentation diagram, complete with mass balances and heat balances.