University of Calgary

Heavy oil researcher heads to Germany to work with global expert

UToday HomeApril 22, 2013

Xingchen Liu, a grad student who studies computational chemistry, will spend the summer at Jacobs University in Germany exploring microscopic chemical reactions during upgrading of heavy oil and bitumen.Xingchen Liu, a grad student who studies computational chemistry, will spend the summer at Jacobs University in Germany exploring microscopic chemical reactions during upgrading of heavy oil and bitumen. Photo courtesy Junying WuA PhD student is taking his work to the lab where it began, by spending the summer at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, to work with pioneering experts in modeling in situ catalysis in heavy oil upgrading.

Xingchen Liu studies computational chemistry in professor Dennis Salahub’s lab in the Department of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science.

At Jacobs University in Germany, he will work with Thomas Heine, an expert in a quantum mechanical modeling method — density functional tight-binding (DFTB) — that helps understand the chemical reactions that occur at a microscopic level during upgrading of heavy oil and bitumen.

“My work belongs to computational chemistry,” says Liu. “It uses computational tools to simulate chemical reactions and from which we can understand the mechanisms of the reactions at molecular level.”  

Liu’s German colleagues have developed the method that can model chemical reactions on nano-materials. “The most popular computational tools do not deal with this problem very well,” says Liu, who says it will be “very helpful” to collaborate with the researchers in the German lab over the summer.

“I can actually work with them, communicate, have conversations with people face-to-face and get some firsthand information,” says Liu. “The model and the parameters are not very well developed, yet that’s why it’s quite challenging for me to work on this.”

He says the in situ catalysis is “an engineering approach that facilitates the oil upgrading by converting the viscous bitumen into lighter species of higher economic value directly in the oil reservoir with the help of injected ultra-dispersed catalysts.” Using computational chemistry to get a fundamental understanding of the process at an atomic level could ultimately help develop better catalysts for the oil upgrading processes.

Liu will be in Bremen from May to the end of July.

 

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