Understanding weathering of oil sands ores by atomic force microscopy



Effect of weathering on colloidal interactions between bitumen and oil sands solids was studied by atomic force microscopy (AFM). The change in bitumen chemistry due to weathering was found to have a negligible effect on the interactions of bitumen with solid particles. However, the increase in solid surface hydrophobicity due to ore weathering reversed the long-range interaction forces between bitumen and solids from repulsive to attractive with a corresponding increase in adhesion force. The measured force profiles between bitumen and various solids can be well fitted with the extended DLVO theory by considering an additional attractive force. The attractive long-range force and increased adhesion force make the separation of bitumen from solids more difficult and the attachment of fine solids on liberated bitumen easier, thereby leading to poor bitumen liberation and lower aeration efficiency. Such changes account for the observed poor processability of the weathered ores. © 2009 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 2009