In-situ Microwave-assisted Catalytic Upgrading of Heavy Oil: Experimental Validation and Effect of Catalyst Pore Structure on Activity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Mohamed Adam
  • Hossein Anbari
  • John P. Robinson
  • Sean P. Rigby

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Nottingham


In-situ combustion alone may not provide sufficient heating for downhole, catalytic upgrading of heavy oil in the Toe-to-Heel Air Injection (THAI) process. In this study, a new microwave heating technique has been proposed as a strategy to provide the requisite heating. Microwave technology is alone able to provide rapid heating which can be targeted at the catalyst packing and/or the incoming oil in its immediate vicinity. It was demonstrated, contrary to previous assertions, that heavy oil can be heated directly with microwaves to 425°C, which is the temperature needed for successful catalytic upgrading, without the need for an additional microwave susceptor. Upgrading of > 3.2° API points, a reduction in viscosity to less than 100 cP, and > 12% reduction in sulfur content was achieved using commercially available hydrodesulfurization (HDS) catalyst. The HDS catalyst induced dehydrogenation, with nearly 20% hydrogen detected in the gas product. Hence, in THAI field settings, part of the oil-in-place could be sacrificed for dehydrogenation, with the produced hydrogen directed to aid hydrodesulfurization and improve upgrading. Further, this could provide a route for downhole hydrogen production, which can contribute to the efforts towards the hydrogen economy. A single, unified model of evolving catalyst structure was developed. The model incorporated the unusual gas sorption data, computerized x-ray tomography and electron microprobe characterization, as well as the reaction behavior. The proposed model also highlighted the significant impact of the particular catalyst fabrication process on the catalytic activity.


Original languageEnglish
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Oct 2020


  • microwave heating, in-situ catalytic upgrading, heterogeneous catalysis, heavy oil, Catalyst characterisation