Upgrading of bitumen was examined with formic acid in supercritical water (SCW) from 673 to 753 K and at a water/oil ratio from 0 to 3. Decomposition of bitumen in SCW + HCOOH gave higher conversions of asphaltene and lower coke yields than those of pyrolysis or with only SCW. Decomposition of bitumen was also conducted in SCW + H2, SCW + CO, toluene and tetralin, which revealed that decomposition of asphaltene was promoted and coke formation was suppressed when using SCW + HCOOH. In SCW + HCOOH, an increase in the water/oil ratio promoted both decomposition of asphaltene and suppression of coke formation. Formic acid in SCW seemed to enhance the conversion of bitumen to lower molecular weight compounds because formic acid seems to produce active species in SCW. The low temperature region (ca. 723 K) was suitable for upgrading bitumen with formic acid in SCW since coke formation was strongly promoted at high temperature (>753 K). A reaction model was proposed and the model predicted that hydrogenation of the asphaltene core was important for the suppression of coke formation.
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