Ice crystals and laser beams

Feb. 29, 2016
Four emerging technologies were recently recognized as possible fledgling solutions to reducing water usage in onshore oil and natural gas operations.

Four emerging technologies were recently recognized as possible fledgling solutions to reducing water usage in onshore oil and natural gas operations.

Early this month, winners were announced by GE and Statoil ASA for their second Open Innovation Challenge that included a nano-sponge, ice crystals, high-powered laser beams, and an evaporator tornado.

The solutions were found via crowdsourcing to reduce the use of fresh water and treat and reuse water from shale oil and gas production while improving productivity.

"Water management costs vary greatly across geographic sites and the operational life of a well," the companies said. "Minimizing these costs, which can vary between 10-30% across the life of a well, is crucial to maximizing profitability during this downturn."

'Powering Collaboration'

Last year, GE and Statoil launched the joint technology-focused initiative, called Powering Collaboration (, to "accelerate the development of more environmentally and economically sustainable energy solutions."

The collaboration's aim is to drive "an industrial response to some of the greatest challenges facing global energy production including flaring, carbon dioxide and methane emissions, and water usage," all while optimizing operations.

This year's challenge received more than 100 entries from 23 countries around the world. The four winners-each banking an initial cash prize of $25,000 for their efforts-were selected based on degree of innovation, technical feasibility, and commercial viability of their proposals.

"Going forward, a discretionary funding pool of $375,000 is earmarked for codevelopment activities to be decided based on a more in-depth evaluation of winning proposals," the companies said.

GE Oil & Gas Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Simonelli said, "A focus on technology helped to unlock the shale revolution. Its intense innovation now shared across industries and between companies will ensure shale development continues in the most sustainable, responsible way possible."

Simonelli said, "The diversity of solutions and sheer volume of submissions we received show the immense talent and creativity gained."

Statoil Chief Technology Officer Elisabeth Birkeland Kvalheim said, "We need to continue to invent new, commercial technologies and models to increase margins, and at the same time reduce our carbon footprint."

The winners

The winners, their affiliations and countries, and brief summaries of each of their solutions follow:

• Ahilan Raman, Clean Energy & Water Technologies, Australia. "An integrated technology that first removes total organic compounds and then separates remaining compounds by creating ice crystals through 'Eutectic freeze crystallization.'"

• Anthony Duong, Battelle Memorial Institute, United States. "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, United States. "A low-pressure, low-temperature, mechanical evaporation technology-called MicroDesal-that purifies waste water from any source."

• Chunlei Guo, University of Rochester, United States. "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."

Duong, a research scientist in Columbus who won for his nano-sponge idea, noted, "Open innovation strengthens relationships and bolsters entire industries. We saw a great benefit from applying our expertise in material science to the oil and gas industry, helping to offset the challenging economic realities producers are now facing."

The current downturn is going to be rough enough as it is. And the oil and gas industry will survive. But it's good to know that such collaborations are taking place to aid in the advancement and modernization of an already complex yet very necessary industry.

About the Author

Steven Poruban | Managing Editor-News

Steven Poruban was hired as staff writer for Oil & Gas Journal in October 1998. Two years later, he was promoted to senior staff writer. In October 2004, he was then promoted to senior editor. He now serves as managing editor-news.

Before working for OGJ, Steven was a reporter for Gas Daily and editor of Gas Transportation Report. He attended Boston University then transferred to and graduated from Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., with a BA in English in 1993.