In situ catalytic upgrading of heavy oil using a pelletized Ni-Mo/Al2O3 catalyst in the THAI process

Abarasi Hart, Joseph Wood, Malcolm Greaves

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30 Citations (SciVal)


Heavy oil and bitumen are difficult crudes to extract and upgrade, with additional transport and refining costs, because of their high viscosity, low API gravity, high asphaltenes, metals (V, Ni), and heteroatoms (N, S). Combining Toe-to-Heel Air Injection (THAI) with its catalytic add-on (CAPRI), a pelletized catalyst is incorporated along the outside of the horizontal producer well for in situ catalytic upgrading. This downhole upgrading process is one means to produce and partially upgrade heavy oil and bitumen with a reduced environmental footprint. In this study, the effectiveness of pelletized hydrodesulfurisation (HDS) Ni-Mo/Al2O3 catalyst for downhole catalytic upgrading was investigated at 350–425 °C, 20 bar, and 9 h−1 space velocity. The additional upgrading due to the presence of the catalyst was evaluated in terms of API gravity, viscosity, boiling point distribution, and sulfur and metals removals, before and after the experiment. The results indicate that the viscosity of the upgraded oil reduced by 1.7, 3 and 5 times less than the feed oil (0.49 Pa s) depending on the reaction temperature in the range 350–425 °C. The average increase in API gravity was approximately 2 to 5° while the gasoline yield showed an improvement of 2.5–13 wt.% above that of the original oil. There was also a modest reduction in the sulfur and metals (Ni + V) content of 2–8% and 1.3–9.2% (Ni + V), respectively. However, a possible limiting factor of the process was that rapid catalyst deactivation occurred due to coking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)958-965
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Petroleum Science and Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Heavy oil
  • In situ upgrading
  • Pelletized catalyst
  • THAI process

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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