Technology Overview

Nsolv’s patented technology uses warm solvent vapour to extract bitumen in-situ. The Nsolv process can replace existing in-situ technologies, such as steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), which rely on significant amounts of water and natural gas. Using solvent vapour offers the added benefit of partial in-situ upgrading. Simply put, a barrel of Nsolv oil is more valuable than that of SAGD.

The Nsolv Process

The Nsolv process involves the injection of a pure, heated solvent vapour into a bitumen reservoir. Once inside the reservoir, the solvent condenses, subsequently dissolving the bitumen, with the resulting liquids flowing by gravity into a production well. The process uses commercially proven, horizontal-well technology widely implemented in current heavy oil recovery operations. Solvents used are natural light hydrocarbons such as propane burned in a barbeque.

Modest rise in temperature, dramatic rise in extraction rate
A modest temperature increase to the solvent and reservoir produces a significant increase in extraction rate
With Athabasca bitumen, a 25-30°C temperature rise typically reduces the bitumen viscosity by a factor of 100. Thus, a small temperature increase to the solvent helps it mobilize and dissolve bitumen to form an ultra-low viscosity fluid that can be produced at high rates.
Solvent purity removes problematic gases
A high-purity solvent improves extraction rate by removing methane from the reservoir
Controlling non-condensable gases, such as methane, in the extraction chamber is essential to achieving high extraction rates. These gases inhibit the physical access of the condensing solvent to the bitumen interface and the rise in temperature needed for rapid dissolution of the bitumen. The use of heated, high-purity condensing solvent provides a very efficient mechanism to remove these gases.
Hydrocarbon in, hydrocarbon out
The hydrocarbon-based solvent causes natural deasphalting of the bitumen, separating valuable components and leaving residue behind, underground
As bitumen is dissolved into the solvent, valuable components are extracted while coke-forming asphaltenes, sulphur, heavy metals and carbon residue remain in the reservoir. This results in a partially upgraded 13° to 16° API oil and no coke waste going to landfills (typical bitumen has an API of about 8°).
  • How It Works

    Step 1Solvent purification. The Nsolv process requires a substantially pure solvent (generally propane or butane) in order to function effectively; therefore, the first step in the process is the simple distillation of the solvent, removing non-condensable gases such as methane.

    Step 2Solvent heating. The purified solvent is then warmed and turned into solvent vapour.

    Step 3Solvent vapour injection. Warm solvent vapour is pumped into the injection well. When it reaches the extraction chamber, it condenses and dissolves the bitumen, draining downward to the production well as a solution of both solvent and partially upgraded oil. Naturally occurring water and non-condensable gases are also produced. Coke-forming asphaltenes are sequestered in the reservoir.

    Step 4 – Separation. Upon being pumped up to surface, the partially upgraded oil mixed with solvent is separated into three components: oil for sale, solvent and naturally occurring water. The oil is sent to refineries for further processing. The solvent is pumped back into the separator and re-purified before being recycled back into the reservoir. Gaseous impurities removed from the solvent, such as methane, are used to fire up the solvent heater.

    Step 5 – Solvent make-up. Nsolv estimates that a solvent quantity equivalent to 20-30% of the extracted oil must be added to the system as make-up. As the chamber grows, the make-up solvent is continually replenished. At the end of a well’s life, the solvent can be recovered and reused on another well or marketed.

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Technology Evolution Highlights

Dr. Emil Nenniger proposes and patents the use of solvent gas at its dew point for in-situ gravity drainage.
Lab testing by the Alberta Research Council reveals quantifiable production rates using solvent-based methods, which were, however, commercially unviable; idea is temporarily shelved.
Researchers resume work on solvents, labelling the concept VAPEX; production rates still too slow.
Dr. Emil Nenniger and his son, Dr. John Nenniger, discover that gently warming the solvent into a vapor that will condense, providing a minor amount of heat, greatly accelerates mixing with the reservoir-bound bitumen, reducing its viscosity and enabling commercially attractive production rates. They file a patent for this heated, vaporized solvent and call the process Nsolv.
Nsolv teams up with Suncor Energy to create a pilot project at the Dover lease near Fort McKay, Alberta. After construction and commissioning, the pilot begins producing in February 2014.


Nsolv has over 400 registered patent claims for the various stages of its heated solvent extraction process. These patents are registered in Canada, the U.S. and various global jurisdictions.
Questions about Nsolv’s technology and patent portfolio can be directed to or 1.403.920.3210