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Meet the Technologies GE, Statoil Say Will Revolutionize Oil & Gas Water Management
The latest technologies poised to reduce water usage in onshore oil and gas production, according to General Electric and Statoil, include a water treatment via a nano-sponge, ice crystals and an evaporator tornado, as well as high-powered laser beams that make pipes super water repellent.
Managing water is one of the industry’s biggest challenges. However, water management costs vary between 10 percent and 30 percent across geographic sites and the operational life of a well, GE and Statoil say. In addition to benefiting the environment, reducing water use can lower transport and energy costs — both of which are crucial to maximizing profitability during this downturn.
To address this environmental issue, GE and Statoil hosted their second open innovation challenge, which used crowd sourcing to find technologies that reduce fresh water in shale oil and gas production. Earlier this week they announced four winners. Each will receive $25,000. Additionally, GE and Statoil have earmarked a discretionary funding pool of $375,000 for co-development activities — they say this will be divvied up based on a more in-depth evaluation of winning proposals.
The four winners are:
- Ahilan Raman, Clean Energy and Water Technologies: An integrated technology that first removes total organic compounds and then separates remaining compounds by creating ice crystals through “Eutectic freeze crystallization (EFC).”
- Anthony Duong, Battelle Memorial Institute: A nano-sponge — a gel formed of nanoscale particles is injected into hydraulically fractured wells to soak up the halite ions (the main actors in forming salt deposits). As a result, salt is never allowed to crystalize, ensuring salt deposits cannot damage the equipment.
- Karen Sorber, Micronic Technologies: A low-pressure, low-temperature, mechanical evaporation technology called MicroDesal that purifies wastewater from any source.
- Chunlei Guo, University of Rochester: A technique using high powered lasers to alter the surface of the inner walls of downhole production pipes, making a metal surface super water repellent.
When asked how much these technologies are expected cut water management costs, a spokesman told Environmental Leader: “All of the winning entries are at various stages of development, some are further along than others, as such not all have hard figures about much water they displace or cost reduction numbers. That said, the Micronic Technologies’ solution removes solids, dissolved solids, metals and bacteria at over 95 percent removal rates and 95 percent throughput and is estimated to cost one-tenth that of distillation.”
Lux Research has covered Micronic Technologies and says that the “tornado effect” does help the company operate at a low temperature and pressure and reduce equipment scaling. But like many other thermal desalination startups, Micronic Technologies relies on waste heat or a solar energy to power its process, and this limits the technology to specific niches, says analyst Abhirabh Basu.
“Both [Micronic Technologies and Battelle Memorial Institute’s technology] could definitely cut operational costs for frac water treatment provided there is enough demand from operators to treat frac water to such high standards,” Basu says. He adds that in this low-oil-price climate, with limited new upstream investments in oil and gas, “operators are more interested in commercialized technologies that can treat the water for a minimum cost (less than a $1 per bbl). The more common option is disposing of water in disposal wells.”
GE and Statoil have been involved with similar challenges in the past aimed at developing more environmentally and economically sustainable technologies for the oil and gas industry. The partners’ inaugural Open Innovation Challenge, which focused on addressing the use of sand in shale development, announced its winners in July.
In 2014, GE launched an up to CAD$1 million ecomagination open challenge to help accelerate emissions-reducing technology development in Canada’s oil sands.
Statoil is a partner in the Environmental Defense Fund’s Methane Detectors Challenge — a collaboration between oil and natural gas companies, technology developers, environmental groups and government and academic advisors that aims to identify and bring to market new technologies that will help reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Such a technology is considered vital to the future of natural gas, which is eating away at coal’s share of the power generation market.
And in other industries, Nike and NASA have launched challenges that focus on green chemistry (i.e. affordable biodegradable plastics produced from methane), sustainable materials development and energy-efficiency and waste-reduction technologies.
But do these challenges succeed in bringing new, disruptive technologies to market and improving companies’ and industries’ environmental performance and efficiency?
“They are a good source of funding for startups for further research and development and field testing,” Basu says. “Additionally, it helps these companies attract potential investors.”
Basu says challenge success stories include desalination startup Desalitech, which now has installed about 40 systems worldwide. Another more recent success story is Anfiro, an early-stage reverse osmosis membrane manufacturer that won the Massachusetts Clean Energy Catalyst Award, the GE and Saudi Aramco Desalination Challenge, and $50,000 at MassChallenge in 2014. Anfiro is now housed at the New England Water Innovation Network (NEWIN) technology cluster, which works to bring water technologies to market.
Time will tell if the GE-Statoil water challenge winners find similar success.