New Approaches to Challenges Win USD 60,000 in R&D Contest

Topics: R&D
Vaibhav Bahadur presents his winning research proposal at the first Research and Development Competition at ATCE.

Novel ways to prevent the buildup of pipe-clogging asphaltenes, enhance production with a molecule that grows and shrinks as needed as it moves through a reservoir, and a formula drawn from quantum physics that could reduce seismic data processing overload were winners of the first SPE Research and Development Competition.

The winners were chosen after six finalists pitched their ideas of how to disrupt the industry’s status quo with new ways of attacking exploration and production’s grand challenges, often with methods from outside the industry.

A team from The University of Texas at Austin (UT) won the top prize for a method that uses an electrical current to create a thin layer of water on the inner walls of a pipe to prevent hydrocarbon buildup without the cost and environmental risk of using chemicals. “I am not relying on chemistry. I am using electricity to attract a water-wet surface and repel” hydrocarbons, said Vaibhav Bahadur, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UT. The water needed comes from the production stream. The pipe used must be coated to block corrosion, which is a problem when water and electric power are present together.

In second place was a proposal presented by Blake Teipel, a graduate research assistant at Texas A&M University. The team created molecules that can assemble in the ground into larger “networks” to increase the push by a waterflood. What makes them different is their ability to break apart to get through tight spaces and then come back together in a large molecule again. Early tests showed the material can be formulated to perform at peak levels based on the temperature and pH content of the reservoir and can do so at prices comparable to those of current methods.

A formula based on quantum mechanics won third place. Omar Laghrouche, a professor at Heriot-Watt University, created a method for drastically streamlining the data gathered during seismic testing to allow faster processing that allows more simulations. “It is 90%, or more, simpler” than the typical method of using many more data points, he said. This method can be used to reduce the cost of basic processing or expand what is done with many more forward simulations run in the same time or analysis incorporating a wider range of bandwidths.

The awards from the corporate sponsors were USD 30,000 for first place, USD 20,000 for second, and USD 10,000 for third. Even more valuable was exposure to the judges from some of the biggest oil and service companies and technology development leaders from the industry.

All the proposals were expected to take on grand challenges set out by SPE. Better management of produced water was a grand challenge undertaken by Mark McHugh, a professor of the chemical engineering department at Virginia Commonwealth University. The goal of the project is to remove salts from high-volume streams of water that used microwave heating and pressure reductions to deliver the sharp reductions in energy use seen in other industries, such as ceramics. Placing a microwave element near the fluid increases the efficiency, but the largest gain was from pressure reduction, which can significantly lower the temperature at which water separates from salts.

Another project drew on management science to address the challenge of carbon capture and storage. Robert Perrons, a professor at  Queensland University of Technology in Australia, used collaboration models developed by computer companies, such as Intel and Microsoft, to create the broad coalitions necessary to create the personal computer business. Those methods, which have been exported to other businesses, could offer a road map for creating coalitions of companies to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere by injecting carbon dioxide into the ground for permanent storage. Perrons turned to that system because it has been used to create coalitions that “span several different businesses that do not normally work together.”

A method using nanotechnology to clean up groundwater polluted by hydrocarbons could be applied to freeing the remaining oil in older reservoirs with coating technology designed to supplant oil on surfaces that attract oil by reducing the interfacial tension, said Christos Tsakiroglou, research director of the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas.

New Approaches to Challenges Win USD 60,000 in R&D Contest

Stephen Rassenfoss, JPT Emerging Technology Senior Editor

23 November 2014

Volume: 66 | Issue: 12


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