The naphtha recovery unit (NRU) is an integral part of the processes used in the oil sands industry for bitumen extraction. The principle role of the NRU is to recover naphtha from the tailings for reuse in this process. This process is energy-intensive, and environmental guidelines for naphtha recovery must be met. Steady-state models for the NRU system are developed in this paper using two different approaches. The first approach is a statistical, data-based modelling approach where linear regression models have been developed using Minitab®
from plant data collected during a performance test. The second approach involves the development of a first-principles model in Aspen Plus®
based on the NRU process flow diagram. A novel refinement to this latter model, called “withdraw and remix”, is proposed based on comparing actual plant data to model predictions around the two units used to separate water and naphtha. The models developed in this paper suggest some interesting ideas for the further optimization of the process, in that it may be possible to achieve the required naphtha recovery using less energy. More plant tests are required to validate these ideas.
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