Canada has extensive reserves of heavy oils, including bitumen extracted from oil sands. Worldwide, technically recoverable heavy oil reserves are now larger than conventional oil reserves. In addition, heavy oils constitute a significant component of many conventional types of crude. Heavy oils must be upgraded to cleaner and more valuable products such as gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel and petrochemical feedstocks.
One of the most advanced upgrading processes is Fluid CokingTM. Heavy oil is sprayed into a fluidized bed of hot coke particles, where its long hydrocarbon chains are thermally cracked into more valuable fragments. These form a synthetic crude oil that can then be processed in regular refineries. ExxonMobil uses Fluid Coking in many of its refineries. Fluid Cokers are used by Imperial Oil in its Sarnia refinery and by Syncrude Canada in its Fort McMurray upgrading plant. Between 15 and 20 per cent of Canada's heavy oil production is processed in Fluid Cokers.
Cedric Briens, of ICFAR, holds the NSERC/Syncrude/ExxonMobil Senior Industrial Research Chair in Fluid Coking Technologies. Research to improve Fluid Coking technologies has been conducted for years at ICFAR by Cedric, his colleague Franco Berruti, numerous students and post-doctoral fellows.
The vision that drives the chair research program – a vision shared by Syncrude Canada and ExxonMobil – is to improve Fluid Cokers through a better understanding of the Fluid Coking process and the development of new technologies. The practical objectives are to increase the operability and liquid yields of Fluid Cokers and to reduce the environmental footprint of heavy oil upgrading.