Oil sands operations in Alberta are poised to experience significant growth over the next number of years. Production of 1.31 million bbl/day of synthetic crude oil and bitumen blends from oil sands in 2008 is projected to increase to over 3 million bbl/day by 2018. This guarantees a large output of heavy oil fractions, such as vacuum gas oil, from oil sands upgraders. On the other hand, increasing supply of NGL feed to Canadian and US petrochemical industry, may result in decline of propylene availability on North American market. Increasing output of heavy oil fractions in Alberta reveals a new opportunity for production of petrochemical feedstock from an alternate source, provided that these new alternate feedstocks can be transformed into feed to petrochemical plants, which includes both fundamental building blocks of petrochemical industry: ethylene and propylene. Over the past number of years NOVA Chemicals working in partnership with Alberta Innovates: Energy and Environment Solution has systematically studied catalytic technologies that can be used to convert heavy oil sands derived fractions into olefins, aromatics-rich products and other high demand petrochemicals and refinery fuel products. Work was carried out in collaboration with external academic institutions and with support of Alberta government focusing on selection and development of specialized catalysts and process technologies. The work has resulted in the development of two novel, breakthrough processes and a number of catalysts, which not only allow significant feedstock flexibility to petrochemicals producers but also integration opportunities with heavy oil refining/upgrading operations. Both processes were specifically designed for treating heavy gas oil fractions, which are rich in aromatics and naphtenics, and which contain only small amounts of paraffins.
This paper presents the process configuration and research results from studies undertaken, which show that it is feasible to produce petrochemical feedstock, petrochemicals and/or refinery fuel products from heavy oil fractions derived from oil sands at competitive prices via two different catalytic processes. Examples of experimental results for catalyst testing are presented for both processes.
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