London, September 18 : University of Calgary researchers say that it is possible to simplify the process of mining extremely viscous oil sands.
Oil sands are naturally occurring mixtures of clay, sand, water and extremely viscous bitumen.
Steve Carter and his colleagues at the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for In Situ Energy at the university say that oil sands can be upgraded while they are still in the ground by starting the refining process early, and making them flow more easily.
The researchers' idea is to pump hydrogen and particles of a catalyst down into a well while simultaneously heating the oil sands, and thereby breaking the long chain hydrocarbons in the bitumen into smaller molecules that flow better and are easier to pump and store.
Carter's team say that besides making it easier to pump, "down-hole upgrading" reduces the amount and cost of equipment and storage facilities needed on the surface, reports New Scientist magazine.