Diethylaminoethyl-cellulose clean-up of a large volume naphthenic acid extract
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The Athabasca oil sands of Alberta, Canada contain an estimated 174 billion barrels of bitumen. During oil sands refining processes, an extraction tailings mixture is produced that has been reported as toxic to aquatic organisms and is therefore collected in settling ponds on site. Investigation into the toxicity of these tailings pond waters has identified naphthenic acids (NAs) and their sodium salts as the major toxic components, and a multi-year study has been initiated to identify the principal toxic components within NA mixtures. Future toxicity studies require a large volume of a NA mixture, however, a well-defined bulk extraction technique is not available. This study investigated the use of a weak anion exchanger, diethylaminoethyl-cellulose (DEAE-cellulose), to remove humic-like material present after collecting the organic acid fraction of oil sands tailings pond water. The NA extraction and clean-up procedure proved to be a fast and efficient method to process large volumes of tailings pond water, providing an extraction efficiency of 41.2%. The resulting concentrated NA solution had a composition that differed somewhat from oil sands fresh tailings, with a reduction in the abundance of lower molecular weight NAs being the most significant difference. This reduction was mainly due to the initial acidification of tailings pond water. The DEAE-cellulose treatment had only a minor effect on the NA concentration, no noticeable effect on the NA fingerprint, and no significant effect on the mixture toxicity towards Vibrio fischeri.
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