The MEG/WRI Partial Upgrader Development Program
MEG and WRI initiated a program in 2002 to develop a partial upgrader to process bitumen to yield a product that would meet transportation specifications without the addition of a hydrocarbon diluent. The technology is based on mild thermal conversion to yield a totally distillable overhead product and a heavy bottoms product that is further upgraded by solvent de-asphalting to yield near asphaltene-free oil (DAO). The overhead and DAO are blended to yield the HI-Q® product, a sour synthetic crude oil that meets transportation specifications and has added market value compared to the diluted bitumen.
Delayed coking is the industry standard for partial upgrading and is based on severe thermal cracking technology that has evolved from the petroleum refining industry. Because of the severe processing condition, there is high conversion to gas and coke and the useable liquid yield is low (75 to 80%) resulting in low economic benefit to the producer. The MEG/WRI technology offers higher yield (90%) with reduced carbon footprint (44% reduction as compared with delayed coking) and is more economically attractive.
The MEG/WRI upgrader is an emerging technology and the development has progressed from a 1-bbl/day process development unit to a 5-bbl/day pilot plant located in the Heavy Oil Technology Center (HOTC) at WRI’s Advanced Technology Center. The pilot plant studies have been successful and have reduced the risk of scale up. The design of a 3,000-bbl/day demonstration plant in Alberta has been completed, equipment procurement has been initiated, and site preparation has started. Conceptual design for a 100 -200K-bbl/day commercial plant has been initiated.
The Heavy Oil Technology Center (HOTC) is a program division within WRI. HOTC works directly with MEG Energy to develop the heavy oil upgrading technology for eventual commercialization and deployment. The HOTC is housed in a 7500 sq. ft. building which contains a 5-bbl/day pilot plant, two analytical laboratories, an engineering support laboratory, and offices and facilities for a staff of 30.