The amount of oil that is contained in the Canadian oil sands represent the third largest oil accumulation in the world. Approximately half of the daily oil production from the oil sands comes from mining processes and the other half is produced mostly using steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). This method is effective at reducing the viscosity of the oil. However, the generation of steam requires a significant amount of energy. Thus, there is an ongoing effort to reduce the energy needed to produce oil from the oil sands. In this article the intermittent injection of a solvent, along with steam, is investigated as a means of reducing the amount of energy required to extract oil from the Canadian oil sands. A simulation-based study examined the effect of the type of solvent, the cycles’ duration, the solvent concentration and the number of cycles. The simulations covered a time span of 10 years during which several different solvents (methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentane, hexane, and CO2
) were injected under varying injection schedules. The solvents that were investigated are compounds that are likely to be readily available at a heavy oil production site. The solvent injection periods ranged from six to 24 months in length. The results reveal that SAGD combined with intermittent injection of hexane resulted in the most significant improvement to the cumulative oil production and in the cumulative energy-oil ratio (cEOR). Compared to SAGD without solvent injection, the cumulative oil production was increased by 45% and the cEOR was reduced by 23%. It was also seen that the performance of the proposed process is highly dependent on the resulting physical properties of the solvent-bitumen mixture. Finally, a simplified economic analysis also identified SAGD with intermittent hexane injection as the scheme that resulted in the highest net present value. Compared to SAGD without solvent injection, the intermittent injection of hexane led to an 85% increase in the net present value.
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