Although natural bitumen and extra-heavy oil occur worldwide, a single extraordinary deposit in each category is dominant. These are sometimes called the Fourth Fossil Fuel. The 1.2 trillion barrels of extra-heavy crude oil deposit of the Orinoco Oil Belt, a part of the Eastern Venezuela basin, represent nearly 90% of the known extra-heavy oil in place. Orimulsion® is a branded product that is made from this bitumen and used as a boiler fuel. It is loosely described as a bitumen-water emulsion or, more correctly, an extra-heavy oil-water emulsion that consists of 70% bitumen, a naturally occurring heavy petroleum material from the Orinoco region of Venezuela, 30% water and a small amount of surfactant. It was first used commercially in 1991 in the UK and in Japan.
Bitumen is considered a non-oil hydrocarbon and is not counted towards Venezuela’s OPEC crude oil production quota. Bitor (Bitumenes del Orinoco), a subsidiary of PdVSA, manages the processing, shipping and marketing of Orimulsion. Bitor operates one Orimulsion plant in Cerro Negro, with a capacity of 5.2 Mt per year. According to Bitor, economically recoverable reserves are estimated at about 267 billion barrels. Rumours that PDVSA was closing the Orimulsion producer Bitmenes del Orinoco Bitor have been categorically dismissed by PdVSA.
Currently over 4,000 MW of plant capacity in UK, Canada, Italy, Japan, Singapore and Lithuania has been adapted for use with Orimulsion. The oil-water emulsion is cheap and competitive with internationally traded coal. It has been proposed as a fuel to replace either coal or heavy fuel oil in utility power plants throughout the world, as it is easy to ignite and has good combustion characteristics. It is relatively easy to convert coal, HFO or diesel plants for use of Orimulsion.