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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N032985/1
Title: Electromagnetically-assisted Catalytic-upgrading of Heavy Oil (ECHO)
Principal Investigator: Rigby, Professor SP
Other Investigators:
Wood, Professor J Robinson, Dr J
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Petrochina The Steam Oil Production Company Ltd
Department: Faculty of Engineering
Organisation: University of Nottingham
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 November 2016 Ends: 31 May 2020 Value (£): 707,442
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Catalysis & Applied Catalysis Design of Process systems
Heat & Mass Transfer Reactor Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy Chemicals
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Apr 2016 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 13 April 2016 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
In order to ensure future energy security, sources of fuel that are considered unconventional today must be developed, including the existing vast heavy oil and bitumen reserves. Although there are large reserves of such oils in Canada and Venezuela, the techniques could potentially be applied in other parts of the World, e.g. sub surface recovery in partially depleted wells in the North Sea.

In order to minimise the environmental impact of extraction of these reserves as much of the processing should be done sub-surface as possible, thereby reducing the requirement for expensive hydrogen and additional energy needed in 'surface upgrader' refineries. This project aims to develop an oil upgrading 'plant' to run underground, in conjunction with the oil recovery process itself, such that it has minimal surface footprint and confines emissions underground. In order to do this we will deploy several technologies in combination: Toe-to-Heel Air Injection (THAI) is an in-situ combustion technique which combusts a small fraction of the oil to generate heat for thermal upgrading and cracking of oil molecules to lighter components required for transportation fuels. Previous work has shown that upgrading is potentially possible underground but that a new solution is necessary to achieve the optimum conditions for downhole processing. In particular, the temperature achieved may not be high enough to achieve the required improvement, therefore we will develop and trial the application of microwave and ohmic heating to increase the well temperature and deliver further upgrading. The addition of a catalyst to the well can bring added value to the product oil by facilitating catalytic cracking reactions which improve its properties. However the application of the above techniques in combination has not been previously investigated, hence this project will combine thermal and electromagnetic approaches to create a new hybrid technology capable of efficient downhole upgrading, and aims to optimise the catalyst formulation to use with this technology. The special and difficult conditions that exist underground require the development of a novel, idiosyncratic catalyst to meet the particular needs of the new process.

The work is expected to deliver new reactor designs capable of combining heavy oil upgrading with microwave and/or ohmic heating and novel catalyst formulations that could be deployed in-situ within the oil well. Laboratory scale upgrading data will be collected to determine how well these techniques work together and process scale up designs proposed that could potentially be applied to take the technology in to the oil reservoir.

The proposed technologies are expected to deliver a number of potential benefits including improved energy security, wealth creation and employment in the energy extraction industry, reduced carbon dioxide emissions, reduced external energy requirement in extracting the oil, UK held intellectual property and patents.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk