Crude Oil Upgrading

With the depletion of light oil reserves, there is increasing interest and demand for the use of heavy oil. Inconveniently, much of the heavy fraction is not suited for direct usage in modern transportation and other areas and thus requires upgrading. Through upgrading, heavy species are redistributed to produce lighter and consequently, more valuable species.

When choosing an upgrading process, there is a trade off between increasing the hydrogen content or decreasing the carbon content. The process for increasing the hydrogen content requires an expensive hydrogen gas input stream, while the latter produces the less valuable coke.

Our sponsor Saudi Aramco has patented a supercritical water upgrading process which eliminates the need for hydrogen while suppressing coke production. Previous work on this project has been focused on investigating the interaction between supercritical water and the sulfur content in crude oil. Currently we are expanding this to understand other groups of interaction between supercritical water and Arabian Heavy Crude in terms of the crude’s initial composition. We are interested in understanding the fundamental upgrading mechanisms and developing a model to measure, predict, and quantify the upgrading process.