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Trans. Tianjin Univ.

2013, 19: 103-109


DOI 10.1007/s12209-013-1776-3

Accepted date: 2012-05-26.
Shi Weixiu, born in 1983, female, Dr, lecturer.
Correspondence to Li Weiyi, E-mail: liwy@163.com.


Numerical Study on Viscosity Reduction in Mining
Heavy Oil by Circulating Hot Water
Shi Weixiu()
1,2
Li Weiyi()
1
Pan Lisheng()
1

(1. School of Mechanical Engineering, Tianjin University, Tianjin 300072, China;
2. School of Environment and Energy Engineering, Beijing University of Civil Engineering and
Architecture, Beijing 100044, China)
Tianjin University and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

AbstractViscosity reduction is an important process in mining heavy oil. To predict the temperature variation and
viscosity variation of heavy oil in flow direction, computational fluid dynamics(CFD) was adopted to simulate the
process of heat transfer and flow in this paper. Moreover, an objective function, namely viscosity reduction efficiency,
was established to analyze the effect of viscosity reduction. The results indicate that circulating hot water can reduce
viscosity significantly, and that the effect of viscosity reduction depends on the inlet temperature and inlet volumetric
flow rate of hot water. There is a maximum temperature of heavy oil in flow direction. With the inlet volumetric flow
rate of 2.0 m
3
/h and the inlet temperatures of 60,, 70, and 80,, viscosity reduction efficiencies are 94.6%, 96.7%
and 97.3%, respectively. With the inlet temperature of 70, and the volumetric flow rates of 1.5 m
3
/h, 2.0 m
3
/h and
2.5 m
3
/h, viscosity reduction efficiencies are 94.4%, 96.7% and 97.2%, respectively.
Keywordscomputational fluid dynamics (CFD); heavy oil; viscosity reduction; drag reduction

Petroleum is the most important energy for human
beings and still dominates the worldwide economy by
far. Recently, fewer and fewer huge oilfields are discov-
ered and the existing oilfields produce less crude oil,
while the society needs more and more oil. Heavy oil that
is difficult to mine attracts more and more interest. With
a much higher viscosity, there should be more energy
loss when mining heavy oil. Several methods have been
developed to improve the mobility of heavy oil in trans-
portation, but there still remains a key challenge
[1-4]
. Vis-
cosity is a paramount characteristic for heavy oil mining,
which not only determines the basic flow properties but
also is an important factor in selecting suitable mining
method
[5-7]
. The main viscosity reduction methods in-
clude heating oil, blending heavy oil with light oil, oil-in-
water/surfac-tant emulsification
[8-11]
, water-lubricated
transport
[12]
, and catalytic cracking
[13,14]
. The viscosity
reduction with circulating hot water in hollow rod top
pump is a method for heating oil, which can successfully
reduce drag and energy consumption during the transfer
process of heavy oil in pipes.
Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) was used in
this study to predict the variations of oil temperature and
viscosity in oil flow direction. The effects of viscosity
reduction were investigated under several conditions. The
inlet temperature and volumetric flow rate of hot water
are two main factors, which dominate the level of viscos-
ity reduction. Therefore, the influences of the two factors
were studied by changing one factor while keeping the
other constant.
1 Numerical calculation model
Heating heavy oil by hot can reduce the viscosity of
heavy oil, and then decrease power input in mining heavy
oil. However, there must be additional heat sources avail-
able. In many oilfields, much hot water generated in min-
ing oil can be used as heat source.
As shown in Fig. 1, hot water flows into the system
from the thermal insulation tube, and then flows out of
the steel hollow rod. The temperature of hot water is
higher than that of heavy oil, which causes heat transfer
from hot water to heavy oil. With the increase of tem-
perature of heavy oil, the viscosity and drag of heavy oil
decrease rapidly, and the power input in pumping heavy
oil decreases correspondingly.
The wall thicknesses of thermal insulation tube and
steel hollow rod are both 0.004 m, and the thermal con-
Transactions of Tianjin University Vol.19 No.2 2013

104
ductivities of thermal insulation tube and steel hollow rod
are 0.02 W/(m) and 50 W/(m), respectively.

Fig.1 Schematic diagram of oil mining pipe
The physical properties of heavy oil and water are
listed in Tab.1. Heavy oil is a kind of mixture, so the
property values may be different in different oilfields. In
the simulation, the dynamic viscosity of heavy oil with
different temperatures is specified by a temperature func-
tion, which is also shown in Tab.1.
The boundary conditions of simulation are specified
as follows: the volumetric flow rate of heavy oil is
10,m
3
/d; the entrance of heavy oil is 900 m away from
ground, and the inlet temperature of heavy oil is 50,,
which is estimated according to the ground temperature
gradient of 3,/100,m. Considering that the temperature
of oil tube is the same as the local temperature of earth,
the boundary condition of oil tube is that wall tempera-
ture is taken as constant and the temperature of oil tube is
a function of position instead of time. In this paper, the
oil entrance is appointed as the coordinate origin. Then,
the coordinate value of ground is 900.
Tab.1 Physical properties of heavy oil and water
Fluid Density/(10
3
kgm
-3
) Thermal conductivity/(Wm
-1

-1
) Specific heat/(kJkg
-1

-1
) Dynamic viscosity/(Pas)
Heavy oil 0.950,0 0.2 3.0 ln(ln(1))5.353,1-0.800,5,lnt
[1]

Water 0.998,2 0.6 4.182 1.00310
-3


Oil mining pipe is very long, and the diameter of
pipe is relatively much smaller. In order to show more
details of the pipe, figures about the grids and simulation
results show only parts of the oil mining pipe. As shown
in Fig. 2, the grids in length direction are much larger
than those in diameter direction, because the parameters
of fluid vary much more slightly in length direction than
in diameter direction. There are 108,000 body grids in the
whole simulation model.

(a) Part of the model mesh

(b) Cross section
Fig.2 Mesh of the computational model
2 Simulation methods
2.1 Boundary conditions
Several boundary conditions should be specified
firstly before computation. Hot water inlet and oil inlet
boundaries are specified as velocity inlet boundary. Wa-
ter outlet and oil outlet boundaries are specified as out-
flow boundary. The walls of thermal insulation tube and
steel hollow rod are specified as coupled wall boundary.
The wall of oil tube is specified as constant temperature
wall boundary, and its temperature is specified as local
ground temperature which is determined by the ground
temperature gradient of 3,/100,m.
2.2 Governing equations
In this study, heavy oil and water are incompressible
Newtonian fluids, and the heavy oil mining process is
under steady condition. Governing equations
[15]
which
consist of mass conservation equation, momentum con-
servation equations and energy conservation equation are
shown as follows.
Mass conservation equation is expressed as
0
u v w
x y z
c c c
+ + =
c c c

(1)
where u is streamwise velocity; v is normal velocity; and
w is spanwise velocity.
Shi Weixiu et al: Numerical Study on Viscosity Reduction in Mining Heavy Oil by Circulating Hot Water

105
Momentum conservation equation in x-direction is
expressed as

( ) ( ) ( ) 1 uu uv uw u
x y z x x

c c c | c c | |
+ + = +
|
c c c c c
\ . \


u
u u p
S
y y z z x

| | | c c c c c | |
+ +
| | |
c c c c c
\ .
\ . .

(2)
where is fluid density; p is fluid pressure; is dynamic
viscosity; and S
u
is the source term in x-direction.
Momentum conservation equation in y-direction is
expressed as

( ) ( ) ( ) 1 vu vv vw v
x y z x x

c c c | c c | |
+ + = +
|
c c c c c
\ . \


v
v v p
S
y y z z y

| | | c c c c c | |
+ +
| | |
c c c c c
\ .
\ . .

(3)
where S
v
is the source term in y-direction.
Momentum conservation equation in z-direction is
expressed as

( ) ( ) ( ) 1 wu wv ww w
x y z x x

c c c | c c | |
+ + = +
|
c c c c c
\ . \


w
w w p
S
y y z z z

| | | c c c c c | |
+ +
| | |
c c c c c
\ .
\ . .

(4)
where S
w
is the source term in z-direction.
Energy conservation equation is expressed as

( ) ( ) ( )
x p y p z p
u c T u c T u c T
x y z

c c c
+ + =
c c c


T
T T T
S
x x y y z z

| | c c c c c c | | | |
+ + +
| | |
c c c c c c
\ . \ .
\ .
(5)
where c
p
is specific heat at constant pressure; is fluid
thermal conductivity; T is fluid temperature; and S
T
is
viscous dissipation term.
3 Simulation results
In this section, the effects of the inlet temperature
and volumetric flow rate of hot water on viscosity reduc-
tion are studied. Firstly, the inlet temperatures of hot wa-
ter are specified as 60,, 70, and 80,, respectively,
with the constant volumetric flow rate of 2.0 m
3
/h. Sec-
ondly, the volumetric flow rates of hot water are speci-
fied as 1.5 m
3
/h, 2.0 m
3
/h and 2.5 m
3
/h, respectively, with
the constant inlet temperature of 70 .
3.1 Effects of the inlet temperature of hot water
With the volumetric flow rate of 2.0 m
3
/h, the inlet
temperatures of hot water are specified as 60 , 70
and 80, respectively. The temperature fields of water
and oil are shown in Fig. 3. The mining pipe is vertical in
practice. In order to show the three-dimensional condi-
tion of the pipe, Fig.3 shows the pipe with a tilt angle. In
Fig.3, the temperature of hot water decreases slightly in
thermal insulation tube, but decreases dramatically in
steel hollow rod. The temperature of heavy oil increases
in flow direction, but it is much lower than that of water.
The temperature variations of hot water and heavy
oil in flow direction are shown in Fig. 4.

Fig.3 Temperature fields of water and oil along the pipe

(a) Temperature variation of hot water

(b) Temperature variation of heavy oil
Fig.4 Temperature variations of hot water and heavy
oil in flow direction at different inlet tem-
peratures of hot water
As shown in Fig. 4(a), water enters thermal insula-
tion tube with high temperature and with the distance
from the bottom of 900 m, then goes to the bottom with
slight temperature reduction, further goes up in steel hol-
low rod with great temperature reduction and finally goes
out of steel hollow rod with low temperature. Because of
the low thermal conductivity of thermal insulation tube
Transactions of Tianjin University Vol.19 No.2 2013

106
and the high temperature of water in steel hollow rod,
variation of water temperature in thermal insulation tube
is slight. The water temperature decreases strongly in
steel hollow rod. The main reason for the dramatic de-
crease of water temperature in steel hollow rod is huge
heat transfer from water to heavy oil. Outlet temperatures
of water under the three conditions are 42.71 , 45.99
and 45.47 , respectively. Heavy oil obtains heat from
hot water, while it losses heat when the temperature of oil
tube is lower than that of oil. The temperatures of oil in-
creases firstly because the heat obtained from hot water is
much more than the loss, and then decreases with more
loss, as shown in Fig.4(b). The variation of heavy oil
temperature is the result of interaction among the tem-
peratures of hot water, heavy oil and ground. As shown
in Fig. 4, heavy oil temperature along oil tube increases
obviously when the inlet temperature of hot water in-
creases from 60 to 70 , while it increases slightly
when the inlet temperature of hot water increases from 70
to 80 ; the temperature of upward hot water var-
ies obviously when the inlet temperature increases from
60 to 70, while varies slightly from 70 to 80.
That is because the heat loss from oil to the ground in-
creases rapidly with the increase of hot water tempera-
ture, i.e., the effect of hot water temperature on oil tem-
perature decreases with the increase of hot water tem-
perature. If the oil is transported without hot water sys-
tem, the temperature of heavy oil is close to ambient
temperature and decreases in flow direction. The peak
temperatures of oil under the three conditions are 52.66
, 55.67 and 58.83 , respectively. The simulation
results under the three working conditions are listed in
Tab.2, where
water
t' is the inlet temperature of hot water,
water
t'' is the outlet temperature of hot water, and
oil
t'' is the
outlet temperature of heavy oil.
Tab.2 Comparison of simulation results at different inlet temperatures of hot water
water
t' /
water
t'' /
oil
t'' / Peak temperature of heavy oil/ Position of peak temperature/m
60.0 42.71 29.60 52.66 34.04
70.0 45.99 31.30 55.67 33.04
80.0 45.47 32.02 58.83 31.03

As shown in Tab.2, with the increase of hot water
inlet temperature, the outlet temperature and peak tem-
perature of heavy oil increase. Higher inlet temperature
of hot water means more heat capacity transferring to
heavy oil. Therefore, the outlet temperature and peak
temperature of heavy oil increase with the rise of inlet
temperature of hot water. And the peak temperature of
heavy oil appears earlier with higher inlet temperature of
hot water.
3.2 Effects of volumetric flow rate of hot water
The inlet temperature of hot water keeps a constant
of 70 , and the volumetric flow rates of circulating hot
water are specified as 1.5 m
3
/h, 2.0 m
3
/h and 2.5 m
3
/h,
respectively.
The temperature variations of heavy oil and hot wa-
ter in flow direction are shown in Fig. 5.
As shown in Fig. 5, the temperatures of circulating
water and heavy oil increase with the increase of volu-
metric flow rate of hot water, because higher volumetric
flow rate means more heat and higher heat transfer coef-
ficient. Therefore, the higher the volumetric flow rate of
hot water is, the higher the oil temperature will be. Nev-
ertheless, if volumetric flow rate reaches a certain value,
the temperature of heavy oil increases slowly. The expla-
nation is that the heat which transfers from heavy oil to

(a) Temperature variation of hot water

(b) Temperature variation of heavy oil
Fig.5 Temperature variations of hot water and heavy
oil in flow direction at different volumetric flow
rates of hot water
Shi Weixiu et al: Numerical Study on Viscosity Reduction in Mining Heavy Oil by Circulating Hot Water

107
oil tube increases rapidly with the increase of volumetric
flow rate and heavy oil temperature. The simulation re-
sults under the three working conditions are listed in
Tab.3, where
water
v is the volumetric flow rate of hot wa-
ter.
As shown in Tab.3, the outlet temperatures of hot
water and heavy oil increase with the rise of volumetric
flow rate of hot water. That is because the higher volu-
metric flow rate of hot water means more heat is carried
into the system. Therefore, hot water with the highest
volumetric flow rate leads to heavy oil with the highest
peak temperature and outlet temperature.
Tab.3 Comparison of simulation results at different volumetric flow rates of hot water
water
v /(m
3
h
-1
)
water
t'' /
oil
t'' / Peak temperature of heavy oil/ Position of peak temperature/m
1.5 41.58 30.02 54.62 33.04
2.0 45.99 31.30 55.67 33.04
2.5 46.04 32.47 56.34 32.04

3.3 Comparison between simulation results and
actual engineering data
The simulation results with the water volumetric
flow rate of 2.0 m
3
/h and the water inlet temperature of
70 were compared with the actual engineering data
obtained from Shengli Oil Field in Tab.4, where L is the
depth of oil well or the length of mining pipe, and
oil
v is
the volumetric flow rate of heavy oil. As shown in Tab.4,
the simulation results accord with the actual engineering
data generally. However, the outlet temperatures of hot
water and heavy oil in actual engineering are a little
higher than those by simulation method. One reason is
that the volumetric flow rate of oil in actual engineering
is a little lower than that in simulation. The other reason
is that ground temperature under steady condition in ac-
tual engineering may be higher than that estimated ac-
cording to ground temperature gradient in simulation,
i.e., less heat is transferred from oil to ground in simula-
tion.
Tab.4 Comparison between simulation results and actual engineering data
Item L /m
water
v /(m
3
h
-1
)
oil
v /(m
3
d
-1
)
water
t' /
water
t'' /
oil
t'' /
Simulation result 900 2.0 10 70 45.99 31.30
Data of Shengli Oil Field 870 2.0 9.6 72 51 36

3.4 Analysis of viscosity reduction of heavy oil
Dynamic viscosity is a function of temperature. For
heavy oil, dynamic viscosity increases with the decrease
of temperature, and the lower the temperature is, the
more rapidly the viscosity increases. There are great dif-
ferences among the viscosity-temperature curves of dif-
ferent oilfields. In this paper, viscosity is calculated by
ln[ln( 1)] 5.3531 0.800 5lnt + =
(6)
From Eq.(6), the viscosity of heavy oil in flow di-
rection can be obtained.
As shown in Fig. 6, when heavy oil is near the exit
of oil tube (with the distance from the bottom of 900 m),
viscosity increases rapidly with the decrease of heavy oil
temperature. At the exit of oil tube, the dynamic viscosity
of heavy oil without circulating hot water is 2.86210
4

Pas, while the dynamic viscosities with the inlet tem-
perature of circulating hot water of 60,, 70, and
80, are 0.12410
4
Pas, 0.06710
4
Pas and 0.053
10
4
Pas respectively. Viscosity without circulating hot
water is much higher and increases much more rapidly

(a) Global details

(b) Partial enlarged details of Fig.6(a)
Fig.6 Variation of dynamic viscosity of heavy oil at
different inlet temperatures of hot water
Transactions of Tianjin University Vol.19 No.2 2013

108
than that with circulating hot water. The higher the inlet
temperature of hot water is, the better the effect of viscos-
ity reduction will be.
As shown in Fig. 7, when the volumetric flow rates
of circulating hot water are 1.5 m
3
/h, 2.0 m
3
/h and 2.5
m
3
/h, the dynamic viscosities of heavy oil at the exit of
oil tube are 0.09710
4
Pas, 0.06710
4
Pas and 0.045
10
4
Pas, respectively.

(a) Global details

(b) Partial enlarged details of Fig.7(a)
Fig.7 Variation of dynamic viscosity of heavy oil at
different volumetric flow rates of hot water
From the analysis of dynamic viscosity reduction of
heavy oil, it is obvious that the effect of circulating hot
water on viscosity reduction is significant. Because the
temperature of heavy oil varies in flow direction, dy-
namic viscosity also varies in flow direction, which
makes it difficult to apply quantitative analysis. Then an
objective function is proposed and expressed as

0
0
0
1
d
L
L
L

q

| |
=
|
\ .
}

(7)
where
0
is the thermal viscosity without hot water; and
is viscosity reduction efficiency.
Eq.(7) defines a term of which means the total ef-
ficiency of dynamic viscosity reduction. With the use of
the objective function, when the volumetric flow rate of
hot water is 2.0 m
3
/h and the inlet temperatures of hot
water are 60 , 70 and 80 , the total efficiencies of
viscosity reduction are 94.6%, 96.7% and 97.3%, respec-
tively. When the inlet temperature of hot water is 70
and the volumetric flow rates of hot water are 1.5 m
3
/h,
2.0 m
3
/h and 2.5 m
3
/h, the total efficiencies of viscosity
reduction are 94.4%, 96.7% and 97.2%, respectively.
3.5 Analysis of heavy oil drag reduction
When heavy oil is heated to high temperature, much
power input in mining heavy oil can be saved. However,
some additional power input in pumping hot water must
be consumed in the system. It is obvious that heavy oil
viscosity is much higher than water viscosity, which is
about 0.001 Pas. Therefore, the additional power input
for pumping hot water is much lower than that for mining
heavy oil, which means that water viscosity along the
pipe and additional power input for pumping hot water
can be ignored in the following analysis.
The essential aim of reducing viscosity is to reduce
drag and save power. According to Eq.(8), the flow pat-
tern of heavy oil is laminar flow,

Dv
Re

=
(8)
where Re is Reynolds number; D is diameter of oil tube;
and v is heavy oil velocity in oil tube.
The drag coefficient of flow pattern can be calcu-
lated by

f
64
Re
= (9)
where
f
is drag coefficient along the way.
Therefore, the drag of heavy oil in flow direction
can be calculated by

2 2
f f 2
64 32
2 2
L v L v Lv
h
d Re d d

= = = (10)
where h
f
is the drag in oil tube.
From Eq.(10), drag is directly proportional to dy-
namic viscosity. With constant volumetric flow rate of
heavy oil and geometries of oil tube, friction drag de-
pends on dynamic viscosity. Therefore, the efficiency of
drag reduction is equal to that of dynamic viscosity re-
duction.
4 Conclusions
Viscosity reduction with circulating hot water is a
common method for heavy oil. In this paper, the varia-
tions of water temperature, heavy oil temperature and
heavy oil viscosity in flow direction are analyzed with
the application of CFD method. In order to analyze the
effect of viscosity reduction, an objective function is pro-
posed. According to the simulation results, the total effi-
ciencies of viscosity reduction and drag reduction are
Shi Weixiu et al: Numerical Study on Viscosity Reduction in Mining Heavy Oil by Circulating Hot Water

109
very high.
(1) Without circulating hot water, the temperature
of heavy oil in flow direction decreases and its viscosity
increases continuously because of ground gradient. The
more closely the heavy oil flows to the exit of oil tube,
the more rapidly the dynamic viscosity increases.
(2) There is a maximum temperature of heavy oil in
flow direction with the distance from the bottom of 30
35 m, which is caused by the interaction of hot water,
heavy oil and cold oil tube.
(3) When the volumetric flow rate of hot water is
2.0 m
3
/h and the inlet temperatures are 60 , 70 and
80 , the total efficiencies of viscosity reduction are
94.6%, 96.7% and 97.3%, respectively.
(4) When the inlet temperature of hot water is 70
and the volumetric flow rates are 1.5 m
3
/h, 2.0 m
3
/h and
2.5 m
3
/h, the total efficiencies of viscosity reduction are
94.4%, 96.7% and 97.2%, respectively.
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