Using an organic solvent to separate bitumen from oil sands has the potential of being more efficient than the conventional hot water process. A company proposed using a switchable hydrophobicity solvent that can dissolve in either water or bitumen depending on the pH. In its hydrophobic form, the solvent dissolves bitumen from sand and clay, and after switching, the hydrophilic solvent transitions into water leaving bitumen for further processing. Coanda helped with the investigation of the solvent removal process by developing and applying a mathematical model.
We considered mass transfer from bitumen/solvent droplets to the multicomponent water solution and the associated chemical reactions. The process depends on various parameters, such as chemical composition, material properties and droplet size that can be varied in the model. Simplifying the process to a system of partial differential equations that can be efficiently solved allowed Coanda scientists to advance the process understanding, identify rate limiting steps, develop scaling rules, and assist in the process design and equipment selection.