SCWC: Partial Upgrading Technology for Extra Heavy Oil with Supercritical Water

Collaborative Company: JOGMEC

Supercritical Water Cracking (SCWC) technology can upgrade oil sands, extra heavy oils and high pour point crude oils to synthetic crude oil (SCO) which can be pipeline transportable. Using only water, it is an on-site upgrading process to make those oils accessible to markets through pipelines at ambient temperature. A pilot test (5 BPD) has been conducted in Canada. This experimental testing provided proof of operational stability through completion of 250-hrs continuous operation. Also, process design for a demonstration plant-scale plant (500-2,000 BPD), as well as for a commercialization scale plant (30,000 BPD or more) has been completed.

Outline of the Process

SCWC technology is a thermal cracking process to upgrade extra heavy oils into pipeline transportable synthetic crude oil by using supercritical water (i.e. higher than 374 degC, higher than 22.1 MPa). It is a simple process using only water not using hydrogen or catalyst. It produces liquid products but no solid products.


Supercritical water has important features for SCWC. It supplies the heat necessary for the thermal cracking of heavy oil, it as a solvent to extract thermally cracked light oils to recover synthetic crude oil (SCO), and also it inhibits the polymerization of asphaltene, thus enhancing and increasing the rate of production of SCO.

SCWC is an upgrading process utilizing such features of supercritical water. The SCO, the main product, is suitable for pipeline transportation in terms of kinetic viscosity and gravity. Although the SCO is a thermal cracked product, it is stable enough for long term storage, has good solubility even blends with other crude oils, and exhibits low fouling speed at heat exchangers.

Pitch, byproduct, can be utilized as boiler fuel as it can have viscosity low enough for good atomizing at burner nozzle at tempered condition. The pitch can be a binder material for road asphalt by adjusting specifications in terms of penetration and viscosity.

SCWC is environmentally friendly as its process is so simple that its footprint is one fourth of the delayed coker process and produces no solid waste such as petroleum coke.


  • This technology is to be applied for such extra heavy crude oils as Canadian Oil Sand, Venezuelan heavy oils, and high pour point crude oils in East Africa.
  • This technology is to be installed on such oil production sites without accessibility for low cost diluent oils as well as such remote oil site which need long distance pipelines.

Development Stage

A pilot plant in Alberta, Canada


  • JPI (The Japan Petroleum Institute) Technology Award (2016)