, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 471-481

Biological upgrading of heavy crude oil

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Heavy crudes (bitumen) are extremely viscous and contain high concentrations of asphaltene, resins, nitrogen and sulfur containing heteroaromatics and several metals, particularly nickel and vanadium. These properties of heavy crude oil present serious operational problems in heavy oil production and downstream processing. There are vast deposits of heavy crude oils in many parts of the world. In fact, these reserves are estimated at more than seven times the known remaining reserves of conventional crude oils. It has been proven that reserves of conventional crude oil are being depleted, thus there is a growing interest in the utilization of these vast resources of unconventional oils to produce refined fuels and petrochemicals by upgrading. Presently, the methods used for reducing viscosity and upgradation is cost intensive, less selective and environmentally reactive. Biological processing of heavy crudes may provide an ecofriendly alternative or complementary process with less severe process conditions and higher selectivity to specific reactions to upgrade heavy crude oil. This review describes the prospects and strengths of biological processes for upgrading of heavy crude oil.