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Auterra’s new bitumen upgrading FlexUP process

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World Pipelines,

Auterra Inc., a catalyst and process development company, has announced that it has accomplished a long standing oil sands industry goal by upgrading bitumen so that it can be transported by pipelines without the use of diluent. Auterra's FlexUP® process can upgrade bitumen with an API Gravity of 8.5 to an API Gravity of over 19.

Today, every barrel of bitumen that is shipped via pipeline from Alberta, Canada to the US requires over 30% of it to be made up of an expensive diluent to lower its viscosity and density for transport. Using FlexUP® to upgrade the quality of bitumen improves viscosity and density of the bitumen and eliminates the need for diluent, which will have a significant economic impact on the Canadian oil industry. Operating costs go down, transportation costs go down and there will be less need for reverse-pipelines to carry diluent from the US back to Canada.

"Accomplishing this level of upgrading has been a company goal for several years now," said Eric Burnett, President and CEO of Auterra. "Through the support of our Calgary-based strategic partner, we have accomplished this major breakthrough and look forward to field testing the technology in the near future."

FlexUP is a two catalyst process that utilises unique chemistry to first oxidise and then cleave away sulfur, nitrogen and metals from bitumen. As part of this process, large molecules are made smaller which improves overall density and viscosity. By removing over 75% of the sulfur in the bitumen, enough small hydrocarbons are created to eliminate the need for diluent. The sulfur, nitrogen and metals are removed through the process and converted into sellable by-products.

Recent developments with the company's FlexUP desulfurisation process improved performance at a far more economical level than previous upgrading solutions. Engineering models of the process show it is very cost effective, especially when compared to alternative and existing technologies.

"Developing a technology like this with bitumen was definitely a challenge but we always knew the sulfoxidation pathway would deliver this game changing capability to the industry," said Kyle Litz, Chief Technology Officer of Auterra. "This is arguably the first major technological advancement in the industry in over 30 years. We are now working to a goal of being able to deliver pipeline ready bitumen with less than 1% sulfur."

Auterra's FlexUP technology is a low cost, low energy upgrading process that minimises carbon dioxide emissions while maximising oil value. The technology is protected globally by a robust patent portfolio and is ideal for treating heavy sour crude oil and refinery streams. These recent advances will be tested in the FlexUP Pilot Unit and then tested in the field as part of the commercialisation programme.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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