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Natural Resources Canada Business Opportunity

“An Agglomeration-Based Oil-Water Separation Process”


The Business Opportunity

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is seeking expressions of interest from firms wishing to enter into a commercial licensing arrangement to bring to market our patented “Agglomeration-Based Oil-Water Separation Process,” which was developed by researchers at our CanmetENERGY Devon laboratory. The ideal licensee would be an oil sands operator with appreciation for the benefits of the new process over the current commercial processes and sufficient capital funds to support the technology development, scale-up and demonstration.

Brief Technology Description

NRCan has filed a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application for this technology, disclosing a method for obtaining diluted bitumen from bitumen-containing mixtures, such as bitumen froth, that combines the advantages and eliminates the drawbacks of naphthenic and paraffinic froth treatment processes, and has decreased environmental impact.

Reference Material

Patents: PCT/CA2021/051542, published as WO 2022/087752
Appendix A: Technology Background and Details
Appendix B: Business Plan Required Format

Expression of Interest

Companies interested in scaling-up and commercializing the NRCan technology must submit a letter of interest to NRCan on or before February 24, 2023. Preference will be given to Canadian companies, and foreign companies will be considered provided that a benefit to Canada is demonstrated in their proposed business plan.

Upon receipt of a letter of interest, NRCan will invite qualified companies to attend an interactive webinar, where additional technical information will be presented. Participation in this information session will be subject to signing a non-disclosure agreement. Following the webinar, companies may submit questions and requests for clarifications. NRCan’s responses to questions and clarification requests will be issued to all qualified companies alike.

Companies interested in becoming NRCan’s licensee will then be required to submit a business plan for NRCan’s consideration. Business plans should address the elements outlined in Appendix B: Business Plan Required Format, and must be submitted to the contact below.


Edith Valle
Intellectual Property Officer - Intellectual Property Division (IPD)
Natural Resources Canada/Government of Canada
P: 403-795-7127

Appendix A: Technology Background and Details


The province of Alberta in western Canada hosts the world’s third largest petroleum deposits after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These deposits are located in both oil sands and carbonate formations. The oil sands are unconsolidated sand deposits containing highly viscous and asphaltene-rich petroleum known as bitumen. Commercially, bitumen is recovered from oil sands using surface mining from shallow deposits and in situ from deep deposits.

Bitumen froth treatment is an important process step of bitumen recovery from oil sands. In bitumen froth treatment, water and mineral solids are separated from the target organic bitumen product by using hydrocarbon solvents to generate a diluted bitumen product suitable for downstream use. Residual water and mineral solids are detrimental to pipeline transport and downstream processes, such as upgrading and refining. Currently, two distinct commercial bitumen froth treatment processes (i.e., naphthenic and paraffinic) proceed via the oil-water separation mechanism of coalescence and agglomeration, respectively, as a result of the solvent composition employed. Drawbacks to these methods include an increased throughput due to the higher S/B ratio, a substantial product loss due to the partial asphaltene precipitation, and generation of hydrocarbon-rich tailings in the paraffinic treatment process, while the separation steps of naphthenic treatment process lead to increased overall capital costs, energy use and processing time. A need remains for a bitumen treatment process that combines the advantages and eliminates the drawbacks of naphthenic and paraffinic treatment processes and has a decreased environmental impact.

Bitumen Froth Treatment Process

To address this need, NRCan is offering a method for obtaining diluted bitumen from bitumen-containing mixtures, such as bitumen froth (e.g., a bitumen froth treatment process), that combines the advantages and eliminates the drawbacks of naphthenic and paraffinic treatment processes and has decreased environmental impact.

The method provides an agglomeration-based oil-water separation process, which makes use of a transition region that exists between naphthenic and paraffinic treatment processes, in terms of solvent composition, where bitumen froth treatments can be conducted using a spontaneous agglomeration mechanism, without noticeable bulk asphaltene precipitation. The process is based on the existence of a transition region at ambient conditions and solvent-to-bitumen ratio of from 1 to 1.6, where not only coalescence is inhibited and agglomeration is initiated but also asphaltene is retained in the diluted bitumen product. By employing conditions in the transition region, the advantages of the two commercial froth treatment processes can be combined and the drawbacks essentially eliminated.

The method aims to utilize the spontaneous agglomeration mechanism in the transition region, instead of suppressing it. The diluted bitumen product obtained in the transition region is virtually free from residual water and solids, using gravity settling alone, as in the paraffinic process, and the asphaltene is retained in it, as in the naphthenic process. This approach can be used not only for bitumen froth treatment, but also for other agglomeration-based oil-water separation processes for obtaining bitumen from bitumen-containing mixture, such as in situ bitumen recovery.

The method comprises:

  • Combining the bitumen-containing mixture with a solvent blend to obtain combination having a ration of said solvent blend to bitumen of about 1.0-1.6 by mass, wherein said solvent blend comprises one or more aromatic components and one or more paraffinic components in an amount of from about 60% to about 90 wt% paraffinic solvent;
  • Mixing the combination; and
  • Separating the diluted bitumen from the water and mineral solids.

The method is considered effective at a given solvent composition when the oil product meets all of the following benchmarks: i) less than 0.1 wt% water in the oil product; ii) less than 0.1 wt% water in the oil product; and iii) same asphaltene content as the froth feed (within +/- 3 wt%), for example, as determined by analyzing for n-pentane-insoluble asphaltene content in solvent-free material.

Appendix B: Business Plan Required Format

Companies are encouraged to submit concise and clear evidence under the following headings:

Please include a concise executive summary

Section 1: Company Information

  • General overview and company summary
    • Organizational maturity
    • Experience/success in the industry
    • Technical capability
    • Marketing capacity
  • Corporate objectives
    • Short-term objectives
    • Long-term objectives

Section 2: Key Personnel and Networks

  • Provide company organization chart identifying key members and foreseen roles
  • Provide resumes of personnel key to this project including credentials and relevant experience

Section 3: Knowledge and Experience

  • Significant business experience in oil sands operations
  • Technical experience in oil sands mining
  • Knowledge of bitumen froth treatment
  • Previous experience on similar projects

Section 4: Financial Stability

Each company authorises NRCan to make credit enquiries about it and any of its affiliates and to receive and exchange credit information from credit reporting agencies or other persons with which the company, or any of its affiliates has or may expect to have financial dealings. Each company must provide NRCan with the company’s (and, on request by NRCan, any of the company’s affiliates) audited financial statements for the last three financial years for which they are available and financial statements for any period after the last audited period.

Section 5: Market, Customer, and Competition Analysis

  • Market opportunity, size and trends
  • Key customer bases
  • Key competitors

Section 6: Scale-up, Production and Marketing Plan

  • Scale-up plan for commercial production
  • Product or services description
  • Distribution channel(s)
  • Target markets (i.e., Canada, USA, worldwide) and sales strategy

Section 7: Company Financial Information

  • Five-year cash flow forecast
  • Capital cost estimates
  • Operating budgets
  • Proposed sale price for product (s) or services incorporating NRCan’s technology
  • Proposed profit margin targets for sales of product(s) or services incorporating NRCan’s technology
  • Proposed royalty structure for product (s) or services incorporating NRCan’s technology

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