• April 2, 2020

UTPB developing way to treat produced water - Odessa American: UTPB

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UTPB developing way to treat produced water

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Posted: Monday, March 23, 2020 3:49 pm

Led by its dean, George Nnanna, University of Texas Permian Basin’s College of Engineering has filed a U.S. patent application for technology to treat produced water.

The process can take a year and a half to two years.

“The technology is aimed at using solar energy for filtration of produced water so it will be energy efficient in the sense that we will use solar collectors to harvest the solar energy and irradiate it on the produced water so that it can evaporate,” Nnanna said.

“When it evaporates we collect those vapors and it becomes clean water.”

Produced water is oilfield water that contains a number of “constituents” that can be anything from dissolved solids to organic and inorganic materials. It can also contain bacteria, Nnanna said.

Nnanna has been working on getting a patent for the device since before he came to UTPB. Previously, he was head of the mechanical and civil engineering departments at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind. He arrived at UTPB in 2018.

“We write the patent, technically. Then you submit it to the legal team; then they put it in this legal language,” Nnanna said.

He added that the legal team he’s referring to is from Perdue University Northwest.

“Currently, it’s at the lab scale but the idea is that we are now in a position to take it to a pilot scale where it can be tested in the field. And if successful, then the next step will be to have it at a larger scale so the process typically is you do the lab scale experiment, then you do the pilot scale, then you go to full scale,” Nnanna said.

He has been through the patent process before.

“We were about to go through the lab scale. Then we ran the pilot scale in one of the facilities in Northwest Indiana. Then from there it was up to the company to take it to commercial stage,” he said.

“In this case, if we finish the pilot scale and the result is promising, then we can how we can commercialize it. It has potential to be utilized in other wastewater treatment facilities,” Nnanna said.

After it got through the device, the water can be reused for hydraulic fracturing, municipal use or for irrigation. “That will save you the freshwater, so even if you’re using it for those other purposes, hydraulic fracturing, or if you’re using for municipal and irrigation that frees up the freshwater you use for that purpose so that you have surplus of freshwater,” Nnanna said.

Although the device is going through the patent process, Nnanna said work to fine tune it and develop it and test it at a larger scale is.

“In fact in our lab we have a scanning electron microscopy so this scanning electron microscopy also has an energy dispersion spectrometer so for short it’s called SEM/EDS. This equipment is used for characterization of the produced water.

“If you use it, it has the capability of giving you information about the elemental composition of the produced water telling you what is in that water. This can be done by basically shooting electron beams on that sample, and at the specific wavelength of that element, you’ll be able to get information on the mass fraction or atomic fraction. That means the percentage of the mass of the element that is contained within the entire sample. In the lab, we have equipment that is called TOC — total organic carbon. This equipment can give us information about the hydrocarbons so it can give us information on organic and inorganic carbons that is contained within the water samples. The other equipment that is available to us is called the inductively coupled plasma optical emissive spectroscopy. It’s ICP-OES for short. … We use it to determine the concentration of cations in the water samples. It can measure the concentration of these cations up to parts per million or parts per billion. Those ions are like heavy metals …,” Nnanna said.

And it can give information on other elements, as well.

Bibian Ogbuji, a postdoctoral researcher at UTPB, has her doctorate in computer science. She has a team of six students working on the project.

Ogbuji said the project has been very interesting and educational for her.

“My background is originally computer science and being able to bring computer science into engineering has been a very insightful experience,” Ogbuji said.

This is her first involvement with produced water research.

“… In the past, I had worked in the oil and gas company but not specifically for water, or produced water, so I started my water journey I would say in July last year. It’s … a fairly new experience for me,” she added.

Nnanna described the work Ogbuji and the students are doing as water data intelligence.

“What that is is she’s looking at the data, the constituents of produced water within the Permian Basin. What she and her group have done is look at about 23 million data points. And they use the statistical method to reduce that 23 million data points to 3 million data points focusing specifically on the Permian Basin. They went further to look at that 3 million data points in each county within the Permian Basin,” Nnanna said.

He added that her team was able to create color coding of all the counties in the Basin and identify the concentration of total dissolved solids in each of the counties.

“This is the first time this type of detailed work has been done,” he said.

Ogbuji said two of takeaways from her research so far have been the wide range of constituents for various contaminants in the water and the lack of literature in terms of produced water in the Permian and the need to close the knowledge gap by providing more information in terms of data required for the oil and gas industry.

“The information will really be useful for designing produced water treatment technologies that can be implemented,” Nnanna said.

Ogbuji said another importance aspect of doing this work is that a lot of the midstream oil and gas companies tend to want to use produced water or recycled produced water for hydraulic fracking.

 “If we’re able to find an appropriate treatment at least that will be useful … for that process. It would reduce the stress on fresh water use for fracking so that would be a really good, important aspect to take care of,” Ogbuji said.

Nnanna noted that being located in this area — the epicenter of the oil and gas industry — will help them collaborate with industry.

“… And with the laboratory that we have here, this equipment is not just for the university. It’s also an opportunity for the industry to collaborate with us and use it in testing the water. The technology that we develop will be a win-win both for the industry and for the Permian Basin community and even beyond because this technology will not be limited by geography. It can be applied across the various sectors and across various locations. So we are here; we are open for business and we are here to help,” Nnanna said.

Ogbuji said there is water research going on with a few companies. One of the common problems identified is pipes clogging, so they are working on how to identify what’s in the water and eliminate items that are causing the clogging.

Nnanna said UTPB is forming the UT Permian Basin Water Institute similar to what he had at Perdue.

“This will be a multidisciplinary institute that will bring in expertise from engineering, sciences, social sciences to look at water problems and develop an innovative solution for it. In fact, we are building a network which is an innovative ecosystem that will comprise … various universities that can help in addressing the challenges of produced water,” Nnanna said.

He said that will be launching soon.

“But I think it will be very beneficial from the university point of view community, as well as industry. We’re reaching out across the nation and beyond; wherever the expertise is because we have the machine and we are sitting here in the Permian Basin area so I think it will be attractive for people across the world,” Nnanna said.

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