Studies of Bitumen Aeration


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Virginia Tech


In the oil sand industry, bitumen is separated from sands by aerating the heavy oil so that it can float out of a flotation vessel, leaving the unaerated sands behind. A bubble-against-plate apparatus equipped with a high-speed camera has been developed to record the optical interference patterns of the wetting films formed on a flat surface and subsequently obtain the temporal and spatial profiles of the films offline using the Reynolds lubrication theory. The technique has been used to study the interaction mechanisms between air bubbles and bitumen. It has been found that the film thinning kinetics increases in the order of asphaltene, bitumen, and maltene, and that the kinetics increases sharply with increasing temperature.

In addition to obtaining kinetic information, the temporal and spatial profiles of the wetting films have been used to derive appropriate hydrodynamic information that can be used to determine the disjoining pressures (∏) in the wetting films. The results obtained in the present work show that ∏ < 0 for maltene and bitumen, while ∏ > 0 for asphaltene at temperatures in the range of 22 to 80 °C. The disjoining pressure data have been analyzed by considering the contributions from the hydrophobic and steric forces in addition to the classical DLVO forces. It has been found that the hydrophobic force increases with increasing temperature, which corroborates well with contact angle data. Dynamic contact angle measurements show that air bubbles attach on bitumen with relatively small contact angles initially but increase sharply to >90° . The extent and the kinetics of contact angle change increase sharply with increasing temperature. These findings suggest that the primary role of temperature may be to increase iii bitumen hydrophobicity and hence hydrophobic force, which is the driving force for bubblebitumen interaction. A thermodynamic analysis carried out on the basis of the Frumkin-Derjaguin isotherm suggests that the disjoining pressure will remain positive (and hence no flotation) until the hydrophobic force becomes strong enough (due to temperature increase) to overcome the positive disjoining pressure created during the course of bitumen liberation.



wetting film, bitumen, air bubble, thinning, disjoining pressure