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Title:
PROCESS FOR UPGRADING HEAVY AND HIGHLY WAXY CRUDE OIL WITHOUT SUPPLY OF HYDROGEN
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2009/073447
Kind Code:
A3
Abstract:
A continuous process to upgrade heavy crude oil for producing more valuable crude feedstock having high API gravity, low asphaltene content, and high middle distillate yield, low sulfur content, low nitrogen content, and low metal co teat without external supply of hydrogen and/or catalyst. Heavy crude oil having substantial amount of asphaltene and heavy components is mixed with highly waxy crude oil having large amount of paraffinic components and water to decompose asphaltene compounds and remove sulfur, nitrogen, and metal containing substances under supercritical conditions. Product has higher API gravity, lower asphaltene content, high middle distillate yield, lower sulfur content, lower nitrogen content, and lower metal content to be suitable for conventional petroleum refining process.

Inventors:
CHOI, Ki-Hyouk (656 Shararr Circle, Saudi AramcoP.o. Box 825, Dhahran ., 31311, SA)
Application Number:
US2008/084543
Publication Date:
June 11, 2009
Filing Date:
November 24, 2008
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
SAUDI ARABIAN OIL COMPANY (1 Eastern Avenue, Dhahran, 31311, SA)
CHOI, Ki-Hyouk (656 Shararr Circle, Saudi AramcoP.o. Box 825, Dhahran ., 31311, SA)
ARAMCO SERVICES COMPANY (9009 West Loop South, Houston, TX, 77210-4535, US)
International Classes:
C10G31/08; C10G9/00; C10G45/26; C10G47/32
Foreign References:
US4840725A
US5096567A
EP0423960A1
US5110443A
US3983027A
US4543177A
US4113446A
US20030062163A1
US4483761A
US4446012A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
RHEBERGEN, Constance, Gall (Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, P.o. Box 61389Houston, TX, 77208-1389, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:

CLAIMS

We claim:

1. A continuous process for upgrading heavy crude oil, the continuous process comprising the steps of:

combining heavy crude oil with a water feed in the presence of highly waxy crude oil to create a modified heavy crude oil/ water mixture, wherein the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture is created in the absence of externally supplied hydrogen;

increasing the pressure of the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture to a pressure exceeding the critical pressure of water;

modifying the temperature of the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture in a reaction zone to a target temperature that is at or above the critical temperature of water, such that at least a portion of hydrocarbons in the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture undergo cracking to create a hot adapted-mixture;

reducing the pressure of the hot adapted-mixture using a pressure regulating device to create a pressure-reduced adapted mixture;

separating the pressure-reduced adapted mixture into a gas portion and a liquid portion;

separating the liquid portion into recovered water and upgraded oil; and

collecting the upgraded oil, wherein the upgraded oil is an upgraded heavy crude oil having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen or metal containing substances as compared to the heavy crude oil.

2. The continuous process of claim 1 , wherein the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture is created in the absence of an externally supplied catalyst.

3. The continuous process of claim 1, wherein the reaction zone comprises an inner portion of a main reactor, the main reactor is comprised of a generally vertically oriented reactor, such that the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture flows downwardly through the generally vertically oriented reactor.

4. The continuous process of claim 1, wherein the pressure regulating device comprises at least one pressure relief valve.

5. The continuous process of claim 4, wherein the pressure regulating device is comprised of a plurality of pressure relief valves, the plurality of pressure relief valves being in parallel with each other.

6. The continuous process of claim 1, further comprising the steps of:

recycling the recovered water by combining at least a portion of the recovered water with the water feed.

7. The continuous process of claim 1, further comprising the steps of

oxidizing at least a portion of the recovered water in an oxidation reactor to form a treated water stream; and

recycling the treated water stream by combining at least a portion of the treated water stream with the water feed.

8. The continuous process of claim 7, wherein thermal energy released by the oxidation reactor is used for heat exchange elsewhere in the process.

9. The continuous process of claims 8, wherein thermal energy released in the reaction zone is used for heat exchange elsewhere in the process.

10. The continuous process of claims 1, wherein thermal energy released in the reaction zone is used for heat exchange elsewhere in the process.

11. A continuous process for upgrading heavy crude oil in the absence of an externally provided catalyst, the continuous process comprising the steps of:

mixing heavy crude oil with a water feed in the presence of a highly waxy crude oil stream at a slightly elevated temperature to form a modified heavy crude oil/water mixture, the temperature being selected in a range such that the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture at the slightly elevated temperature is readily capable of being pumped;

pumping the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture to a heating zone at a pressure exceeding the critical pressure of water;

heating the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture in the heating zone to a temperature in the range of about 150° C to 350° C to form a pre-heated mixture;

introducing the pre-heated mixture into a reaction zone;

increasing the temperature within the reaction zone to a target temperature that is at or above the critical temperature of water, such that at least a portion of hydrocarbons of the preheated mixture undergo cracking, forming a hot adapted-mixture, the reaction zone being

essentially free of an externally-provided catalyst and free of an externally-provided hydrogen source;

cooling and depressurizing the hot adapted-mixture to form a pressure-reduced adapted mixture;

separating the pressure-reduced adapted mixture into a gas portion and a liquid portion using at least one separator;

separating the liquid portion into upgraded oil and recovered water using at least one oil- water separator; and

collecting the upgraded oil recovered from the at least one oil-water separator, wherein the upgraded oil is an upgraded heavy crude oil having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen or metal containing substances as compared to the heavy crude oil.

12. The continuous process of claim 11 , wherein the reaction zone comprises an inner portion of a main reactor, the main reactor is comprised of a generally vertically oriented reactor, such that the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture flows downwardly through the generally vertically oriented reactor.

13. The continuous process of claim 11 , further comprising:

oxidizing the recovered water under supercritical conditions to form a treated water stream; and

recycling the treated water stream by combining the treated water stream with the water feed.

14. The continuous process of claim 13, further comprising:

capturing the thermal energy released during the oxidizing step, operable for use for heat exchange elsewhere in the process; and

capturing the thermal energy released from the reaction zone, operable for use for heat exchange elsewhere in the process.

15. A continuous process for upgrading a heavy crude oil in an environment free of an externally supplied catalyst or externally supplied hydrogen source, the continuous process comprising the steps of:

mixing the heavy crude oil with highly waxy crude oil to create a modified heavy crude oil;

increasing the pressure of the modified heavy crude oil to a point at or exceeding the critical pressure of water;

heating a water feed to an elevated temperature to form a heated water stream, such that the heated water stream is in a supercritical state;

mixing the modified heavy crude oil with the heated water stream to create a pre-heated mixture;

heating the pre-heated mixture in a reaction zone to a target temperature that is at or above the critical temperature of water to create a hot adapted-mixture, wherein the heating is conducted in an environment essentially free of an externally-provided catalyst and free of an externally-provided hydrogen source;

cooling and depressurizing the hot adapted-mixture to form a pressure-reduced adapted mixture;

separating the pressure-reduced adapted mixture into a gas portion and a liquid portion; and

separating the liquid portion into recovered water and upgraded oil, whereby the upgraded oil is an upgraded heavy crude oil having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen and metal containing substances in comparison with the heavy crude oil.

16. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the reaction zone comprises an inner portion of a main reactor, the main reactor is comprised of a generally vertically oriented reactor, such that the pre-heated mixture flows downwardly through the generally vertically oriented reactor.

17. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the pressure regulating device comprises at least one pressure relief valve.

18. The continuous process of claim 17, wherein the pressure regulating device is comprised of two or more pressure relief valves configured in a parallel fashion.

19. The continuous process of claim 15, in which the target temperature is in the range from about 705° F to about 1112° F (374° C to 600° C).

20. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the heavy crude oil and the highly waxy crude oil are mixed at a temperature in the range from 50° F to 392° F (10° C to 200° C).

21. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the heavy crude oil and the highly waxy crude oil are mixed at a temperature in the range from 122° F to 322° F (50° C to 150° C).

22. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the mixing ratio, as measured at room temperature, of the heavy crude oil and the highly waxy crude oil is in the range of 50:1 wt/wt and 1 : 1 wt/wt.

23. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the mixing ratio, as measured at room temperature, of the heavy crude oil and the highly waxy crude oil is in the range of 20:1 wt/wt and 2:1 wt/wt.

24. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the mixing ratio, as measured at room temperature, of the modified heavy crude oil and the heated water stream is in the range of 10:1 wt/wt and 1: 10 wt/wt.

25. The continuous process of claim 15, wherein the mixing ratio, as measured at room temperature, of the modified heavy crude oil and the heated water stream is in the range of 5 : 1 wt/wt and 1 :5 wt/wt.

26. A continuous process for upgrading a heavy crude oil in an environment free of an externally supplied catalyst or externally supplied hydrogen source, the continuous process comprising the steps of:

contacting a mixture of heavy crude oil and highly waxy oil in the presence of water under conditions that exceed the supercritical point of water, such that at least a portion of hydrocarbons in the mixture of heavy crude oil and highly waxy oil undergo cracking, the contacting being performed in the absence of externally supplied hydrogen;

cooling and depressurizing the mixture;

separating the mixture following the cooling step into a gas portion and a liquid portion; and

separating the liquid portion into recovered water and upgraded oil, whereby the upgraded oil is an upgraded heavy crude oil having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen and metal containing substances in comparison with the heavy crude oil.

27. An apparatus for upgrading heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil in an environment free of an externally supplied catalyst or externally supplied hydrogen source, the apparatus comprising:

a mixing zone operable to combine heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil with a water feed at a slightly elevated temperature to create an oil/water mixture;

a pre-heating zone that is fϊuidly connected with the mixing zone, the pre-heating zone operable to heat the oil/water mixture to a temperature up to about 350° C;

a high pressure pumping means, the high pressure pumping means operable to increase pressure of the oil/water mixture to at least the critical pressure of water;

a reaction zone comprising an inner portion of a main reactor, wherein the reaction zone is fluidly connected with the pre-heating zone; the main reactor being operable to withstand a temperature that is at least as high as the critical temperature of water; the main reactor being operable to withstand pressure in excess of the critical pressure of water, the reaction zone being essentially free of an externally-provided catalyst and essentially free of an externally-provided hydrogen source;

a pressure regulating device;

a liquid-gas separator fluidly connected to the pressure regulating device, the liquid-gas separator operable to create a liquid stream and a gas stream; and

a water-oil separator fluidly connected to the liquid-gas separator via the liquid stream, the water-oil separator operable to create a recovered water stream and an upgraded hydrocarbon stream.

28. The apparatus of claim 27, wherein the pressure regulating device comprises a plurality of back pressure regulators connected in a parallel fashion.

29. The apparatus of claim 27, wherein the recovered water stream can be recycled and combined with the water feed.

30. The apparatus of claim 29, further comprising an oxidation reactor fluidly connected with the recovered water stream, the oxidation reactor operable to clean the recovered water stream via oxidation.

Description:

PROCESS FOR UPGRADING HEAVY AND HIGHLY WAXY CRUDE OIL WITHOUT SUPPLY OF HYDROGEN

Related Applications

[0001J This patent application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial Nos. 60/990,662; 60/990,648; 60/990,658; 60/990,670; and 60/990,641 filed on November 28, 2008, which are all incorporated by reference in their entireties.

Technical Field of the Invention

[0002] The present invention relates to a continuous process for upgrading heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil to produce more valuable crude oil feedstock having a higher API gravity; lower asphaltene content; lower content of sulfur, nitrogen and metallic impurities; increased middle distillate yield; and/or reduced pour point.

Background of the Invention

[0003] The petroleum industry has long sought to find new methods for treating heavy crude oils, highly waxy crude oils, and other petroleum materials in an effort to meet the ever- increasing demand for petroleum feedstocks and improve the quality of available crude oils used in refinery processes.

[0004] In general, heavy crude oils have a low API gravity, high asphaltene content, low middle distillate yield, high sulfur content, high nitrogen content, and high metal content. These properties make it difficult to refine heavy crude oil by conventional refining processes to produce end petroleum products with specifications that meet strict government regulations.

[0005] Many petroleum refineries perform conventional hydroprocessing after distilling crude oil into various fractions. Each fraction is then hydroprocessed separately. Therefore, refineries must utilize complex unit operations to handle each fraction. Further, significant amounts of hydrogen and expensive catalysts are utilized in conventional hydrocracking and hydrotreating processes under severe reaction conditions to increase the yield from heavy crude oil towards more valuable middle distillates and to remove impurities such as sulfur, nitrogen, and metals.

[0006] Additionally, distillation and/or hydroprocessing of heavy crude oil feedstock produces large amounts of asphaltene and heavy hydrocarbons, which must be further cracked and hydrotreated to be utilized. Conventional hydrocracking and hydrotreating processes for asphaltenic and heavy fractions also require high capital investments and substantial processing,

[0007] Currently, large amounts of hydrogen are used to adjust the properties of fractions produced from conventional refining processes in order to meet required low molecular weight specifications for the end products; to remove impurities such as sulfur, nitrogen, and metal; and to increase the hydrogen-to-carbon ratio of the matrix;. Hydrocracking and hydrotreating of asphaltenic and heavy fractions are examples of processes requiring large amounts of hydrogen, and these two processes result in the catalyst having a reduced life cycle.

[0008J Supercritical water has been utilized as a reaction medium for cracking of hydrocarbons with the addition of an external source of hydrogen. Water has a critical point at about 705° F (374° C) and about 22,1 MPa. Above these conditions, the phase boundary between liquid and gas for water disappears, with the resulting supercritical water exhibiting high solubility toward organic compounds and high miscibility with gases. Furthermore, supercritical water stabilizes radical species.

[0009] However, utilizing supercritical water, without the use of external hydrogen as the reaction media for cracking, has some disadvantages such as coke formation, which occurs during the upgrading of hydrocarbons in the supercritical water fluid. Although the amount of coke produced from upgrading hydrocarbon in this manner is less than that produced by conventional thermal coking processes, coking must be minimized to increase liquid yield and improve the overall stability of process operation.

[0010] It is known in the industry that coke formation occurs in cracking using supercritical water if there is only a limited availability of hydrogen and feed hydrocarbon has high aromaticity. Several proposals have been suggested to supply external hydrogen to a feed hydrocarbon treated with supercritical water fluid. For example, hydrogen gas can be added directly to the feed stream. Carbon monoxide can also be added directly to the feed stream to generate hydrogen through a water-gas-shift (WGS) reaction between carbon monoxide and water. Organic substances such as formic acid can also be added to the feed stream to generate hydrogen through a WGS reaction with carbon monoxide, which is produced from decomposition of added organic substances and water. Additionally, a small amount of oxygen can be included in the feed stream to allow for oxidation within the feed matrix for generating carbon monoxide. This carbon monoxide can then be used in a WGS reaction for producing hydrogen. However, feeding external gas and/or organic substances into a liquid stream increases costs and introduces added complexity to the process.

[0011] Highly waxy crude oil contains substantial quantities of paraffmic compounds that have elevated boiling points and considerable molecular weights. These properties result in high pour points and difficulties in the transferring capability of the crude oil through pipelines and oil tankers. Thus, highly waxy crude oil has come to be regarded as a non-conventional petroleum

source. Furthermore, the highly waxy crude oil has a very low content of unsaturated hydrocarbons, which makes it unsuitable as a feedstock for most current refining processes and petrochemical processes. For example, to distill straight-run naphtha from highly waxy crude oil requires severe reforming treatment to increase aromatic and olefinic contents for improving octane rating of motor gasoline.

[0012] Upgrading of highly waxy crude oil is possible through conventional thermal or catalytic cracking, but such treatment produces substantial amounts of coke and consumes large amounts of hydrogen and catalyst. In addition to thermal and catalytic cracking, the problems caused by the high pour point of highly waxy crude oil can be reduced by solvent dewaxing and/or addition of pour point depressants. However, all of these methods suffer disadvantages.

[0013] As noted earlier, thermal coking produces large amounts of solid coke as a by-product, which is an indicator of the loss of valuable hydrocarbon feedstock. Catalytic hydrocracking requires large amounts of hydrogen and the regular replacement of spent catalyst. Solvent dewaxing requires a wax disposing system and a solvent recovery system, which adds to complexity and expense. Pour point depressants are expensive and change the end product in undesirable ways.

[0014] Therefore, it would be desirable to have an improved process for upgrading heavy and highly waxy crude oils with supercritical water fluid that requires neither an external supply of hydrogen nor the presence of an externally supplied catalyst. It would be advantageous to create a continuous process and apparatus that allows for the upgrade of the whole crude oil, rather than the individual fractions, to reach the desired qualities such that the refining process and various supporting facilities can be simplified. Furthermore, it would be desirable to have a process that

could be implemented at the production site without the use of complex equipment. Additionally, it would be most desirable to make the process be one that is conducted in a continuous fashion.

Summary of the Invention

[0015] The present invention is directed to a continuous process that satisfies at least one of these needs. The invention includes a continuous process for upgrading a heavy crude oil feed stream in the absence of externally supplied hydrogen. In one embodiment of the present invention, a mixture of heavy crude oil and highly waxy oil are contacted together in the presence of water under conditions that exceed the supercritical point of water. Furthermore, there is an absence of externally supplied hydrogen during this mixing step. In contacting the heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil under supercritical conditions, at least a portion of hydrocarbons within the mixture will undergo cracking. The mixture is then cooled, depressurized, and separated into a gas portion and a liquid portion. The liquid portion is then further separated into recovered water and upgraded oil, whereby the upgraded oil is an upgraded heavy crude oil having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen and metal containing substances in comparison with the heavy crude oil.

[0016] In an alternate embodiment of the present invention, the continuous process includes combining a heavy crude oil feed with a water feed in the presence of highly waxy crude oil to create a modified heavy crude oil/water mixture. The modified heavy crude oil/water mixture, which is maintained at a pressure exceeding the critical pressure of water, which is about 22.1 MPa, undergoes temperature modifications in a reaction zone in order to force the water into a supercritical state, thereby providing a reaction medium for the upgrading of heavy crude oil

without significant formation of coke. The reaction zone comprises an interior portion of a main reactor, the main reactor operable to withstand temperatures and pressures in excess of the critical temperature and critical pressure of water, and the reaction zone is essentially free of an externally-provided catalyst and essentially free of an externally-provided hydrogen source. The highly waxy crude oil supplies enough hydrogen to break the large asphaltenic molecules contained in the heavy crude oil. Additionally, desulfurization, denitrogenation and demetallation processes are accelerated by the presence of the highly waxy crude oil.

[0017] Once the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture reaches an appropriate temperature and pressure, at least a portion of the hydrocarbons in the mixture undergo cracking, resulting in a hot adapted-mixture. This hot adapted-mixture is subsequently cooled and relieved of its increased pressure, creating a pressure-reduced adapted mixture. The pressure-reduced adapted mixture is then separated into a gas portion and a liquid portion, where the liquid portion is made up of an upgraded oil/water mixture. The final upgraded oil product, which has a higher API gravity; reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen or metal containing substances; and increased amounts of middle distillate yield as compared to the heavy crude oil, is collected by separating the upgraded oil/water mixture into its two components, upgraded oil and recovered water, using any suitable oil-water separator.

[0018] In an alternate embodiment, the reaction zone comprises an interior portion of a generally vertically oriented reactor, such that the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture flows downwardly through the generally vertically oriented reactor.

[0019] In an alternate embodiment of the present invention, the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture is fed into a heating zone prior to the reaction zone, wherein the modified heavy crude

oil/water mixture is heated to a temperature in the range of about 150° C to about 350° C to form a pre-heated mixture. The pre-heated mixture is then introduced into the reaction zone, wherein the temperature within the reaction zone is increased to a target temperature that is at or above the critical temperature of water, such that at least some of the hydrocarbons of the pre-heated mixture undergo cracking, forming the hot adapted-mixture, the reactor being essentially free of an externally-provided catalyst and free of an externally-provided hydrogen source. The hot adapted mixture is cooled and depressurized forming the pressure-reduced adapted mixture. The pressure-reduced adapted mixture is then separated into the gas portion and the liquid portion, wherein the liquid portion is made up of the upgraded oil/water mixture. The final upgraded oil product, which has reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen or metal containing substances as compared to the heavy crude oil, is collected by separating the upgraded oil/water mixture into its two components, upgraded oil and recovered water, using any suitable liquid separator.

[0020] In other embodiments of the invention, the recovered water from the final liquid separation stage can be recombined with the water feed. In yet another embodiment of the invention, the recovered water can be treated in an oxidation reactor prior to recombining with the water feed using an oxidation step, so as to treat the recovered water by removing any oil residue or other impurities. In a further embodiment of this invention, the thermal energy contained in the product stream from the reaction zone and/or the oxidation reactor can be captured and used for heat exchange elsewhere in the process. Furthermore, the continuous process can be carried out without the aid of any externally supplied catalysts.

[0021] Additionally, the present invention provides a continuous process for converting highly waxy crude oil to more valuable hydrocarbon feedstock with a reduced waxy fraction and

reduced level of impurities such as sulfur, nitrogen and metal without forming significant amount of coke and without an external supply of hydrogen or hydrogen-generating chemicals. The low- value, highly waxy crude oil is upgraded to conventional crude oil that has improved flowing properties for more effective transfer in pipeline and tankers.

[0022] In an alternate embodiment of the present invention, a method for producing upgraded hydrocarbon feedstock by supercritical water is provided. In this embodiment, the water feed is heated, preferably in the heating zone, to form a heated water stream, such that the heated water stream is in a supercritical state. The heavy crude oil is mixed with the highly waxy crude oil before or after combining the heavy crude oil with the heated water stream to create the preheated mixture. The pre-heated mixture then enters the reaction zone, which is maintained at a pressure exceeding the critical pressure of water, and is heated to a target temperature in the range of 705° F to 1112° F (374° C to 600° C). At this increased temperature and pressure, at least a portion of the hydrocarbons in the mixture undergo cracking, resulting in the hot adapted- mixture. This hot adapted-mixture is subsequently cooled and relieved of its increased pressure, creating the pressure-reduced adapted mixture. The pressure-reduced adapted mixture is then separated into the gas portion and the liquid portion, where the liquid portion is made up of the upgraded oil/water mixture. The final upgraded oil product, which has reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen or metal containing substances as compared to the heavy crude oil, is collected by separating the upgraded oil/water mixture into its two components, upgraded oil and recovered water, using any suitable liquid separator. At the same time, highly waxy crude oil is also upgraded to produce an upgraded oil product having a lower pour point and higher concentration of olefin and aromatic compounds.

[0023] In an alternate embodiment, the reaction zone comprises an interior portion of a main reactor, wherein the main reactor is comprised of a generally vertically oriented reactor, such that the pre-heated mixture flows downwardly through the generally vertically oriented reactor.

[0024] The upgraded oil preferably has a higher API gravity, lower asphaltene content, higher middle distillate yield, lower sulfur content, lower nitrogen content, and lower metal content than the original heavy crude oil feed, which allows for convenient processing in conventional petroleum refining processes. Also, an embodiment of the present invention provides an efficient and convenient method to upgrade heavy crude oil and/or highly waxy crude oil without forming significant amount of coke.

[0025] In an embodiment of this invention, supercritical water fluid provides an improved reaction medium for crude oils to be decomposed and cracked into low molecular weight hydrocarbons through facilitating mass diffusion, heat transfer, intra- or inter- molecular hydrogen migration, stabilizing of radical compounds for suppressing coke formation and increasing liquid yield, and removal of impurities. Furthermore, supercritical water fluid facilitates mass transfer, which increases reaction speed. In one embodiment, the residence time of the pre-heated mixture within the reaction zone is between 0.1 and 10 minutes, and more preferably between 1 and 3 minutes.

[0026] The present invention does not require an external supply of hydrogen and/or hydrogen generating chemicals because the paraffimc fraction of highly waxy crude oil serves as a hydrogen source. In addition, external catalysts are not required.

[0027] Additionally, the continuous process of the present invention can be easily utilized at the production site of the heavy crude oil or the highly waxy crude oil because the preferred

embodiment does not require complex equipment or facilities associated with other processes that require hydrogen supply or coke removal systems. In one embodiment, the continuous process of the present invention is located at the highly waxy crude oil production site so as to minimize initial transportation costs.

[0028] In one embodiment of the present invention, a continuous process for upgrading a heavy crude oil in an environment free of an externally supplied catalyst or externally supplied hydrogen source is provided. The continuous process includes contacting a mixture of heavy crude oil and highly waxy oil in the presence of water under conditions that exceed the supercritical point of water. In doing this, at least a portion of hydrocarbons in the mixture of heavy crude oil and highly waxy oil undergo cracking. Advantageously, this cracking can be achieved in the absence of externally supplied hydrogen. Once the hydrocarbons are cracked, the mixture is then cooled and depressurized prior to separating the mixture into a gas portion and a liquid portion. The liquid portion is then further separated into recovered water and upgraded oil, whereby the upgraded oil is an upgraded heavy crude oil having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen and metal containing substances in comparison with the heavy crude oil.

[0029] The present invention is also directed to an apparatus for upgrading heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil in an environment free of an externally supplied catalyst or externally supplied hydrogen source. In one embodiment of the present invention, the apparatus includes a mixing zone, a pre-heating zone, a high pressure pumping means, a reaction zone, a pressure regulating device, a liquid-gas separator, and a water-oil separator. In one embodiment, the mixing zone is operable to combine heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil with a water feed at a slightly elevated temperature. Slightly elevated temperatures are temperatures that are

slightly elevated in comparison to ambient temperature. Exemplary elevated temperatures include temperatures in the range of 50 - 150 degrees C. The pre-heating zone is fluidly connected with the mixing zone; with the pre-heating zone being operable to heat its contents to a temperature up to about 350° C. The high pressure pumping means is operable to increase pressure of the oil/water mixture within the apparatus to exceed the critical pressure of water. The reaction zone comprises an interior portion of a main reactor. The reaction zone is fluidly connected with the pre-heating zone, and the main reactor is operable to withstand a temperature that is at least as high as the critical temperature of water. Additionally, the main reactor is operable to withstand pressure in excess of the critical pressure of water. In one embodiment of the present invention, the reaction zone is essentially free of an externally-provided catalyst and essentially free of an externally-provided hydrogen source.

Brief Description of the Drawings

[0030] So that the manner in which the above-recited features, aspects and advantages of the invention, as well as others that will become apparent, are attained and can be understood in detail, more particular description of the invention briefly summarized above may be had by reference to the embodiments thereof that are illustrated in the drawings that form a part of this specification. It is to be noted, however, that the appended drawings illustrate only preferred embodiments of the invention and are, therefore, not to be considered limiting of the invention's scope, for the invention may admit to other equally effective embodiments.

FIG. 1 shows one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 shows an embodiment of the invention that includes a recycle stream.

FIG. 3 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 4 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 5 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 6 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 7 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 8 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 9 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 10 shows an alternate embodiment of the invention.

Detailed Description

[0031] While the invention will be described in connection with a series of embodiments, it will be understood that it is not intended to limit the invention to only those embodiments. On the contrary, it is intended to cover all the alternatives, modifications and equivalence as can be included within the spirit and scope of the invention defined by the claims.

[0032] An embodiment of the present invention provides a continuous process for upgrading a crude oil feedstock, made up of heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil, that comprises contacting the feedstock with hot, pressurized, supercritical water to produce an improved feedstock having a higher API gravity, fewer asphaltenic and heavy components, higher middle distillate yield, and a reduced amount of sulfur,, nitrogen and metallic components. The supercritical water stabilizes radical molecules, which suppresses any recombination of radicals, thereby resulting in diminished coke formation. The improved feedstock is formed without the need for an external supply of hydrogen, hydrogen-generating chemicals, or catalyst.

[0033] An embodiment of the present invention also provides a continuous process for upgrading highly waxy crude oil such that the upgraded crude oil has a reduced pour point, reduced amount of asphaltenic components, and increased middle distillate yield. This result is achieved without forming a significant amount of coke and without the need for an external supply of hydrogen or hydrogen-generating chemicals, or catalyst.

[0034] According to an embodiment of the present invention, heavy crude oil is mixed with highly waxy crude oil at a slightly elevated temperature to produce a modified heavy crude oil, the slightly elevated temperature exceeding the pour point of the highly waxy crude oil. The modified heavy crude oil is then preferably fed through a high pressure pump in order to increase

the pressure of the modified heavy crude oil to a value exceeding the critical pressure of water. The pressurized modified heavy crude oil is then preferably slightly heated to an elevated temperature in the range from 50° F to 392° F (10° C to 200° C), and more preferably 122° F to 322° F (50° C to 150° C).) However, if the temperature of the pressurized modified heavy crude oil should exceed 302° F (150° C) at this increased pressure, coking can occur within the continuous process, which greatly reduces the efficiency of the overall production. Therefore, a maximum temperature of 302° F (150° C) is most preferable for the pressurized modified heavy crude oil. Heating for this purpose can be accomplished, for example, by flowing the modified heavy crude oil and a product stream from a reactor through a heat exchanger.

[0035J Water can be added to the heavy crude oil before or after combining with highly waxy crude oil; however, the highly waxy crude oil is preferably mixed with the heavy crude oil before the water, The weight ratio, as measured at room temperature, of the heavy crude oil and the highly waxy crude oil is preferably in the range of 50:1 to 1 :1, more preferably in the range of 20:1 to 2:1. The weight ratio, as measured at room temperature, of the modified heavy crude oil and water is in the range of 10:1 to 1:10, more preferably in the range of 5:1 to 1:5. The combination of the heavy crude oil, the highly waxy crude oil and water results in the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture.

[0036] In one embodiment, the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture, which is maintained at a pressure exceeding the critical pressure of water, is then introduced into a heating zone, which preferably consists of a heater and tube, to increase the temperature of the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture up to 302° F to 662° F (150° C to 350° C), and forming the pre-heated mixture. The heating zone is important to the success of the continuous process as it helps reduce overall coke formation. Heating for this purpose can be achieved, for example, by combining the

modified heavy crude oil/water mixture with a product stream from a reactor into a heat exchanger. In an alternate embodiment, highly pressurized water can be separately heated to a temperature exceeding its critical temperature prior to mixing with the pressurized modified heavy crude oil.

[0037] The pre-heated mixture is then fed into the reaction zone, which is preferably surrounded by another heater, to increase the temperature of the feed stream up to a target temperature of about 705° F to 1184° F (374° C to 640° C) while maintaining pressure above the critical pressure of water to form the hot adapted-mixture. The hot adapted mixture is then cooled down and undergoes a pressure release by a pressure regulating device, forming the pressure-reduced adapted mixture. The pressure regulating device is preferably a back pressure regulator (BPR), and more preferably more than one BPR in parallel. The pressure-reduced adapted mixture is then separated into gas and liquid portions by a series of suitable separators. The liquid portion is then separated into upgraded oil and the recovered water by an oil-water separator.

[0038] Optionally, the recovered water from the oil-water separator is treated with oxygen under supercritical conditions in the oxidation reactor to remove oily impurities contained in the water phase. Oxygen used for this purpose can be supplied from oxygen gas, hydrogen peroxide, organic peroxide, and/or air. The product from the oxidation reactor has high thermal energy released from the oxidation reaction. In alternate embodiments, this energy can be captured and used to heat the pre-heated mixture, the heavy crude oil, the highly waxy crude oil, the modified heavy crude oil, the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture and/or the water feed via a heat exchanger.

[0039] The upgraded oil phase recovered from oil-water separator contains a reduced amount of asphaltenic, heavy and waxy components, sulfur, nitrogen and metals than the heavy crude oil. The distillation curve, as measured according to ASTM D-86, is also shifted to lower temperature by this invention.

[0040] The continuous process of the present invention can comprise one or more of the following: a crude oil- water mixing stage, a heating stage, a reaction zone stage, a cooling stage, a depressurizing stage, and at least one separating stage. Thermal energy contained in the product stream from the reaction zone stage can be utilized to treat the feed stream in suitably- sized economizing equipment.

[0041] Additionally, organic compounds included in the recovered water can be fully oxidized with hot and pressurized water in the presence of oxygen to obtain clean water for recycling and thermal energy that is released from oxidation reactor.

[0042] This invention provides a method to convert heavy crude oil to more valuable hydrocarbon feedstock having: a higher API gravity; higher distillation yield toward middle distillates; lower content of impurities, such as sulfur, nitrogen and metal; and lower contents of asphaltenic and heavy fractions. These properties are achieved all without forming a significant amount of coke and without external supply of hydrogen or hydrogen-generating chemicals. Products made by this invention are suitable for conventional refining processes that have limited capability for hydrocracking and hydrotreating of fractions derived from heavy crude oil.

[0043] The continuous process of the present invention is further demonstrated by the following illustrative embodiment, which is not intended to limit in any way the continuous process of the present invention.

Illustrative Embodiment,

[0044] Properties of heavy crude oil that are applicable to the method disclosed in the present invention are listed in Table 1. Residual fraction having boiling points above 1050° F (565.6° C) is 23.6 vol% of whole range heavy crude oil and has asphaltenes as much as 8.2 wt%.

[0045]

Table 1

[0046] Properties of waxy crude oil that are applicable to the method disclosed in the present invention are listed in Table 2. Pour point is very high, 105° F (40.6° C), which means the highly waxy crude oil is solid-state at room temperature (68° F to 86° F (20° C to 30° C)).

Table 2

[0047] In one embodiment, heavy crude oil and highly waxy crude oil having properties as outlined in Table 1 and Table 2, respectively, are processed by the method of the present invention. Heavy crude oil is mixed with highly waxy crude oil water in the ratio of 5:1 wt/wt at 158° F (70° C) with an impeller to form a modified heavy crude oil. Using an impeller, the modified heavy crude oil is mixed with water in the ratio of 1:5 wt/wt at 158° F (70° C) to form a modified heavy crude oil/water mixture.

[0048] This modified heavy crude oil/water mixture is then fed, using a high pressure pump, into a heating zone to raise its temperature up to 482° F (250° C), forming a pre-heated mixture. The pre-heated mixture is then introduced into a reaction zone while maintaining pressure at 25 MPa and a target temperature of 842° F (450° C). The pre-heated mixture has a residence time of 10 minutes within the reaction zone. A hot adapted-mixture, which is the output from the reaction zone, is then used to heat the modified heavy crude oil/water mixture via a heat exchanger before

it is released to about 0.1 MPa by a back pressure regulator. Following this pressure release, the hot adapted mixture is then fed into a liquid-gas separator, wherein the liquid portion from liquid- gas separator is then fed into an oil- water separator. The upgraded oil is then collected and analyzed. Total liquid yield is above 95 vol%; the API gravity is 45, and the pour point of the upgraded oil is lower than 10° F. Conversion of asphaltene contained in residue above 1050° F was above 80% based on weight.

[0049] Now turning to FIG. 1, heavy crude oil [4] is combined with water feed [2] in the presence of highly waxy crude oil [6] in mixing zone [30] to create modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34]. Mixing zone [30] can be simply a "T" in the line allowing mixing or other mixing devices known in the art. Modified heavy crude oil/ water mixture [34] is then fed into main reactor [50] and subjected to increased temperatures and pressures, which preferably exceed the critical temperature and critical pressure of water, which are about 705° F (374° C) and about 22.1 MPa, respectively. During this period of intense heat and pressure, modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34] undergoes cracking and forms hot adapted-mixture [52], which is then sent to pressure regulating device [70]. Hot adapted-mixture [52] is brought back down to a pressure close to atmospheric, resulting in pressure-reduced adapted mixture [72], Pressure-reduced adapted mixture [72], which contains both gases and liquids, is then fed into liquid-gas separator [80] to remove gas portion [82] from liquid portion [84]. Liquid portion [84] is then fed into oil- water separator [90], which yields upgraded oil [92] and recovered water [94]. Upgraded oil [92] is an upgraded version of both heavy crude oil [4] and highly waxy crude oil [6], having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen or metal containing substances as compared to heavy crude oil [4], Upgraded oil [92] also has improved flow

properties resulting from a lower pour point, which allows upgraded oil [92] to be transported to other processes using pipes or tankers.

[0050] FIG. 2 shows an alternate embodiment wherein at least a portion of recovered water [94] is used as a recycle stream and is combined with water feed [2].

[0051] FIG. 3 demonstrates a further embodiment in which oily residue is removed from recovered water [94], making treated water stream [112] via oxidation reactor [HO]. Treated water stream [112] is then combined with water feed [2].

[0052] FIG. 4 is another embodiment in which heavy crude oil [4] is combined with highly waxy crude oil [6] to form modified heavy crude oil [8]. Modified heavy crude oil [8] is then heated, using modified heavy oil heater [65], which is preferably a heat exchanger, and then sent to mixing zone [30] where it is combined and mixed with water feed [2] to form modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34]. Modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34] is then sent to heating zone [40], where it is preferably heated to a temperature of about 482° F (250° C), before being fed into main reactor [50]. The continuous process is then similar to that as shown in FIG. 3, with the additional step of passing treated water stream [112] through modified heavy oil heater [65] before combining with water feed [2]. The dashed line represents an alternate path, wherein treated water stream [1 12a] passes through heating zone [40] rather than modified heavy oil heater [65] in order to heat modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34] rather than modified heavy crude oil [8].

[0053] FIG. 5 shows an alternate embodiment in which the thermal energy contained in hot adapted mixture [52] is used for heat exchange upstream of the liquid separation step. In one embodiment, the thermal energy from main reactor [50] is used for heating in heating zone [40] and the thermal energy released from oxidation reactor [1 10] is used to heat modified heavy crude oil [8] via modified heavy oil heater [65]. The dashed lines represent alternate paths, wherein treated water stream [112a] passes through heating zone [40] rather than modified heavy oil heater [65], and hot adapted-mixture [52a] passes through modified heavy oil heater [65] rather than heating zone [40].

[0054] FIG. 6 shows an alternate embodiment to that shown in FIG. 1, in which the thermal energy contained in hot adapted mixture [52] is used as the heat source for heating zone [40]. The dashed line represents an alternate path, wherein the thermal energy is used as the heat source for modified heavy oil heater [65] instead of heating zone [40].

[0055] FIG. 7 shows an alternate embodiment wherein high pressure pump [15] is used to feed modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34] to heating zone [40] to form pre-heated mixture [42] before entering main reactor [50]. In main reactor [50], pre-heated mixture [42] is subjected to increased temperatures and pressures, which preferably exceed the critical temperature and critical pressure of water, which are about 705° F (374° C) and about 22.1 MPa, respectively. During this period of intense heat and pressure, pre-heated mixture [42] undergoes cracking and forms hot adapted-mixture [52]. Hot adapted-mixture [52] passes through heating zone [40] in order to transfer heat energy to modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34]. Hot adapted- mixture [52] is then sent to pressure regulating device [70], where it is depressurized, preferably to 0.1 MPa, to form pressure-reduced adapted mixture [72].

[0056] FIG. 8 shows an alternate embodiment as that described in FIG. 7, wherein the thermal energy released from oxidation reactor [110] is used for heat exchange upstream of the liquid separation step. In one embodiment, the thermal energy from main reactor [50] is used for heating heating zone [40] and the thermal energy released from oxidation reactor [110] is used to heat water feed [2], heavy crude oil [4], and highly waxy oil [6] via modified heavy oil heater [65]. The dashed lines represent alternate paths, wherein treated water stream [112a] passes through heating zone [40] rather than the modified heavy oil heater [65], the hot adapted-mixture [52a] passes through modified heavy oil heater [65] rather than heating zone [40],

[0057] In FIG. 9, heavy crude oil [4] is combined with highly waxy crude oil [6] into crude oil mixer [5] to create modified heavy crude oil [8], wherein the mixing ratio of heavy crude oil [4] to highly waxy crude oil [6] is in the range of 50:1 wt/wt and 1:1 wt/wt, more preferably in the range of 20:1 wt/wt and 2:1 wt/wt. Additionally, the temperature of crude oil mixer [5] should preferably be in the range from 50° F to 392° F (10° C to 200° C), more preferably in the range from 122° F to 322° F (50° C to 150° C).

[0058] Modified heavy crude oil [8] is combined with water feed [2] in mixing zone [30] to form modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34], wherein the weight ratio of modified heavy crude oil [8] to water feed [2] is in the range of 10:1 wt/wt and 1:10 wt/wt, more preferably in the range of 5:1 wt/wt and 1:5 wt/wt. Modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34] is then fed into main reactor [50], wherein modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34] is subjected to increased temperatures and pressures, which preferably exceed the critical temperature and critical pressure of water, which are about 705° F (374° C) and about 22.1 MPa, respectively. During this period of intense heat and pressure, modified heavy crude oil/water mixture [34] undergoes cracking

and forms hot adapted-mixture [52], Hot adapted-mixture [52] is then separated into gas portion [82] and liquid portion [84] via liquid-gas separator [80], The liquid portion [84] then travels to oil-water separator [90], wherein liquid portion [84] is separated into upgraded oil [92] and recovered water [94], whereby upgraded oil [92] is an upgraded heavy crude oil having reduced amounts of asphaltene, sulfur, nitrogen and metal containing substances in comparison with the heavy crude oil.

[0059] FIG. 10 represents one embodiment in which water feed [2] is pre-heated to supercritical conditions prior to mixing zone [30], In this embodiment, water feed [2] is fed into water storage tank [10], where the water feed [2] is subsequently pumped into the continuous process using high pressure metering water pump [20]. However, instead of first mixing with modified heavy crude oil [8], water feed [2], which is at a pressure exceeding the critical pressure of water, undergoes heating in heating zone [40] to form heated water stream [41], wherein heated water stream [41] is in a supercritical state.

[0060] Highly waxy crude oil [6] and heavy crude oil [4] are fed into crude oil mixer [5], which is preferably a stirred tank type mixer, and mixed together forming modified heavy crude oil [8]. Modified heavy crude oil [8] is slightly heated to allow for adequate flowing. Modified heavy crude oil [8] is similarly fed into modified heavy crude oil storage tank [11], where modified heavy crude oil [8] is subsequently pumped into the continuous process at mixing zone [30] using high pressure metering modified heavy crude oil pump [21]. Mixing zone [30] can be simply a ' 1 T" in the line allowing mixing or other mixing devices known in the art. Prior to mixing zone [30], modified heavy crude oil [8], which is at a pressure exceeding the critical pressure of water, is at a temperature that allows for flow; however, preferably not exceeding

150 degrees C. Modified heavy crude oil [8] and heated water stream [41] combine at mixing zone [30], which is preferably near main reactor [50], to create pre-heated mixture [42].

[0061] Pre-heated mixture [42] enters main reactor [50], wherein the temperature and pressure are near to or exceed the critical point of water, such that at least some of the hydrocarbons of pre-heated mixture [42] undergo cracking, forming hot adapted-mixture [52], main reactor [50] being essentially free of an externally-provided catalyst and essentially free of an externally- provided hydrogen source. Hot adapted-mixture [52] is then cooled using any acceptable means of cooling [60], preferably a heat exchanger, creating cooled adapted-mixture [62]. Cooled adapted-mixture [62] is then depressurized by pressure regulating device [70] to create pressure- reduced adapted mixture [72]. In one embodiment, pressure regulating device [70] comprises at least two pressure regulating valves, and more preferably three pressure regulating valves [70a, 70b, 70c] connected in a parallel fashion. This arrangement advantageously provides for continued operation in the event the primary relief valve becomes plugged. Pressure-reduced adapted mixture [72] then enters liquid-gas separator [80], wherein pressure-reduced adapted mixture [72] is separated into gas portion [82] and liquid portion [84]. Liquid portion [84] is then fed into oil-water separator [90] to yield upgraded oil [92] and recovered water [94]. In an alternate embodiment, recovered water [94a] can be recycled upstream high pressure metering water pump [20].

[0062J While FIGS. 4-6, and 10 show embodiments in which highly waxy crude oil [6] is combined with heavy crude oil [4] prior to the introduction of water feed [2], these are merely the preferred embodiments. As stated earlier, water feed [2] can be combined with heavy crude oil [4] before or after combining with highly waxy crude oil [6].

[0063] While the invention has been shown or described in only some of its forms, it should be apparent to those skilled in the art that it is not so limited, but is susceptible to various changes without departing from the scope of the invention. For example, steps can be performed in a different order to reach the same desired goal and heating can be affected in a variety of ways. Similarly, the process can be practiced as a batch or continuous-batch process without departing from the scope of the invention.