HeaderImage Oilsand Understanding Upgrading


The Syncrude upgrading process converts the thick bitumen into a high quality, light, low sulphur crude oil.

The first step in the upgrading process is to remove the naturally occurring light gas oil component of bitumen and to recover the diluent naphtha. This is done in the three diluent recovery units, which operate much like an atmospheric distillation unit in a conventional refinery.

The light gas oil stream is sent to the hydrotreaters, the diluent naphtha is recycled to the Extraction plant and the bottoms – atmospheric topped bitumen – is predominantly fed to the Vacuum Distillation Unit (VDU), with a modest amount going directly to the conversion units. The VDU removes all of the remaining light and heavy gas oils, directing these streams to the hydrotreaters. The bottoms from the VDU - vacuum topped bitumen – are fed to the conversion units.

Upgrading Process

Through upgrading, Syncrude converts bitumen into hydrocarbon streams – naphtha, light gas oil (LGO) and heavy gas oil (HGO) – that are blended to create our high quality, light, low sulphur crude oil.

At Syncrude, four bitumen conversion units – three fluid cokers and one hydrocracker (LC-Finer) – are in operation.

The fluid cokers are thermal conversion units that crack long chain bitumen molecules into more valuable short chain molecules – heavy gas oil, light gas oil and naphtha. The fluid coking process is a continuous operation where fluidized coke particles are transferred back and forth between the reactor and burner vessels. A portion of the coke produced in this process is transferred to the burner to provide heat for the thermal cracking process. The LC-Finer is an ebulated bed process that uses catalyst and hydrogen to convert bitumen into gas oils and naphtha.

Intermediate naphtha and gas oil products are processed in a variety of hydrotreater units. These units operate at high pressure and use fixed bed catalytic reactors to treat the product and remove sulphur, nitrogen and other impurities. The resulting crude oil is a blend of naphtha, light gas oil and heavy gas oil.

There are numerous other units in Upgrading that support the operation. These include hydrogen units that supply hydrogen to the hydrotreaters, environmental units that treat water and gas streams, and sulphur recovery units. There is also a flue gas desulphurization unit (FGD) that processes the burner flue gas from our third coker to remove sulphur and reduce emissions. The FGD is linked to an offsite fertilizer plant that prepares a marketable product from the recovered sulphur.

Once the crude oil leaves our facility, it becomes the property of our joint venture owners who assume responsibility for shipping and marketing. Learn more about our product specifications by contacting one of our owner companies, who are listed here.

Fluid Cokers

Syncrude’s three fluid cokers are among the largest in the world.