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  • Cited by 35
  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: October 2009

10 - Surfactants in Athabasca Oil Sands Slurry Conditioning, Flotation Recovery, and Tailings Processes


In the surface processing of oil sands, surface and interfacial phenomena involving surfactants are involved in the occurrence and properties of suspensions, emulsions, and foams of several kinds. The actions of natural surfactants originating in the bitumen, and underlying the physical chemical basis for the separation process, are reviewed in the context of individual process steps. Issues arising from the occurrence of these surfactants in the process tailings basins are also discussed.


Slurry conditioning of oil sand and the subsequent flotation recovery of separated bitumen comprise what is known as the hot water flotation process for Canada's Athabasca oil sands, a large-scale commercial application of mined oil sands technology. As will be seen, the hot water flotation process is composed of numerous inter-linked elementary process steps many of which are rich in surfactant chemistry. We will review aspects of the surfactant science underlying this process. But first, a few words on oil sands and their early exploitation.

Oil sands are unconsolidated sandstone deposits containing a very heavy crude oil termed bitumen. Bitumen is chemically similar to conventional crude oil but has a greater density (a lower API gravity) and a much greater viscosity. Deposits of oil sand are present in many locations around the world and they appear to be similar in many respects, occurring along the rim of major sedimentary basins, mainly in either fluviatile or deltaic environments containing sands of high porosity and permeability.