PhD Studentship Heavy Oil Upgrading Using THAI-CAPRI Process

Crude oil is currently a primary source of energy globally, but the decline of light oil reserves has shifted attention to large deposits of untapped heavy oil and bitumen energy resources (~70 % of the World’s 9-13trillion barrel oil resource). These resources are characterised by high viscosity and density, high cost of production and low market value, which hinders their exploitation. Therefore, the viability of these resources is dependent on recovery and upgrading technology that will convert them to light oil in an economical and environmentally friendly manner.

The Toe-to-Heel Air Injection (THAI)-Catalytic Peteroleum Recovery Institute (CAPRI) process was developed for the recovery and upgrading heavy oil combining in-situ combustion, thermal and catalytic upgrading within the horizontal producer well. In this study, the contribution of the CAPRI section is investigated. Previous work has shown that asphaltenes, coke and metal deposition drastically deactivates the catalyst, which is typically an industrial hydrotreatment catalyst pellet such as NiMo/Al2O3 or CoMo/Al2O3. Strategies for alleviating coke deposition and prolonging catalyst lifetime in the CAPRI process are being investigated. These include the use of a guard bed to filter heavy molecules from the oil prior to the catalyst, addition of hydrogen to promote hydrocracking reactions, addition of steam and development and testing of once-through nanoparticulate catalysts. In particular, novel catalysts are being prepared from waste materials such as road dusts using biological methods.

The PhD project will involve the preparation and testing of catalysts for heavy oil upgrading using inorganic and biologically derived materials. The novel catalysts will be used in a specially developed oil upgrading and analytical facility, so would suit a candidate who enjoys undertaking experimental work.  The project could also study greenhouse gas emissions from the oil extraction process, and look at adsorbents to reduce these emissions.

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Interested applicants with a 2i degree or better in a relevant subject should contact Professor Joe Wood for further details (, +44 (0) 121 414 5295). Funding may be considered for UK and EU students.

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