A consortium of
The process by which these compounds solidify and form hard deposits inside the refinery is not very well understood, but according to project leader, Prof Geoff Hewitt from
‘It costs more than £1bn a year in lost production time, cleaning and most importantly energy wastage,’ said Hewitt. ‘The asphaltene deposit acts like a layer of insulation on the heat exchange and limits the energy that can be produced.’
As part of the project the researchers will build a modified oil rig at
The way in which heat exchangers are cleaned will also be investigated to see if there are other technologies to make the process more efficient, and their overall design will be looked at in detail to discover if a new design would minimise the asphaltene build-up. Sophisticated thermodynamics and molecular modelling techniques will also be employed to understand how the asphaltene molecules are shaped, and how they disperse through the crude oil.
The work is being undertaken in collaboration with the Engineering Sciences Data Unit, which works with industry to help in areas such as the modelling of heat transfer dynamics. The project is being funded by a £2.2m research grant from the EPSRC.