Transporting Heavy Oils at Low Temperature

Physical Sciences : Petroleum

Available for licensing


  • Gary Pope, Ph.D. , Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering
  • Upali Weerasooriya, Ph.D. , Harcros Chemical Company

Background/unmet need

The global economy, especially the economies of emerging countries like India, continues to rely on petroleum for the energy necessary to power infrastructure and maintain economic growth.  

Many petroleum reservoirs produce heavy oil. Some, such as in Canada, produce oil so viscous that it is very difficult to get to flow into and out of storage tanks and railcars and through pipelines for shipment to refining centers. In most cases, steam is used to heat the heavy oil and reduce its viscosity; but in Canada, for example, the winter months create a challenge when trying to keep the crude heated.

Invention Description

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a formulation based on proprietary surfactants that enables even the most viscous crude oils (bitumen) to form a flowable emulsion. Experiments indicate the emulsion retains a low enough viscosity even under low ambient temperature conditions that it can easily be pumped using the standard field equipment.


  • No external energy requirement, such as steam, etc.
  • Viscosity reduction of orders of magnitude achieved
  • Relatively small amount of surfactant added to enable flowable emulsion

Market potential/applications

Transportation of heavy crude oil is a large and growing industry. Canadian crude and Venezuelan crude are both known for their viscous propoerties and the associated difficulties with handling and transport. 

Development Stage

Lab/bench prototype

IP Status

  • 2 foreign patents application filed