National Research Council of Canada. Energy, Mining and Environment
Conference of Metallurgists 2014, October 1, 2014, Vancouver; Canada
transmission electron microscopy; electron energy-loss spectroscopy; energy dispersive x-ray spectroscop; oil sands; bitumen, minerals; clays
Aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) allows for the nano-scale exploration of materials at unprecedented resolution and sensitivity. In this paper, we combine this approach with electron energy-loss spectroscopy (EELS) and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) to analyze the carbon distribution in residual solids found in solvent-diluted bitumen product extracted from Alberta oil sands. Major components of these contaminant solids are ultrafine clays. Biwettable clays have been associated with the formation of solid-stabilized water-in-oil emulsion, which are known to increase the content of both water and mineral solids in the final bitumen product. We demonstrate that the residual solids present in bitumen product contain carbon intermixed with mineral particles of various size and shape. By probing the carbon content at the nanometer scale with the high chemical sensitivity of EELS, we provide direct evidence of carbon intermixing with clay platelets. This clay-organic association at the nanometer-scale will contribute to the biwettable, hydrophobic character of the platelets, and will therefore play a crucial role in the bitumen extraction process.