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OriginOil: using pulsed electrical current to clean frac water

Thursday, September 6, 2012

OriginOil, Inc. of Los Angeles has developed a technology for cleaning water using electrical pulsing.

It can be used for cleaning frac water (water used for hydraulic fracturing of wells), or produced water (water which is produced from an oil well).

The system was evaluated by Pacific Advanced Civil Engineering, Inc., a civil engineering consulting firm specialising in water, based in Fountain Valley, California, using a sample of produced water from a Texas Oil Well, which PACE supplied.

PACE found that the system could reduce "chemical oxygen demand" (COD) of frac water by 98 percent. Chemical oxygen demand is a test to indirectly measure the amount of organic compounds in water (because nearly all organic compounds can be oxidised to form carbon dioxide).

So this means it was removing 98 percent of the organic contaminants in frac water. It can do this in a single pass.

The OriginOil system uses electrical pulses which neutralise the repulsive electrical charge of suspended particles and oil droplets in the water, so they can be separated from the water. The charges also promote coagulation of suspended organics and break oil emulsions in the water.

The technology was originally developed by OriginOil as a means of separating microscopic algae from water - enabling producers to create an algae biofuel and chemicals which can be used as petroleum substitutes.

In the first stage of the reaction, the electrical pulses are sent through the fluid as it passes through a reactor tube.

In a second stage, more electrical pulses push them to the surface using a "bubble flotation method". The gas flotation chamber creates a cloud of microbubbles to lift the material to the water's surface, and heavy material can fall to the bottom. This is called a "gas flotation concentrator".

In the third stage, the particles can then be raked off and processed.

No chemicals are required.

The reactors are controlled by a SCADA control system. The algorithms are developed for the type of produced water being processed.

In future it will be possible to make real time adjustments to the pulse characteristics for the specific water parameters, for maximum efficiency and minimum energy usage.

The resulting water might need further treatment (such as filtering) before it can be put into ground water, depending on how much oil there was in it to begin with and the final water quality required.

There is a possibility that the system can provide an additional revenue source, if the produced water creates enough hydrocarbons that it their value exceeds the cost of treating the water or pumping it back deep underground untreated (which is what happens to 98 percent of produced water).

The company recently received an order for two systems from the US Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, to use in a demonstration unit.

It has built systems with a capacity of 150 gallons per minute (216,000 gallons or 5,140 barrels per day) to remove algae, currently being delivered to a "demonstration scale" algae production site in Australia.

The company is currently planning to test a 60,000 gallon per day / 1,430 barrels per day unit in the field for water treatment.

The equipment can be installed inside 2 x 20 foot box containers, with all equipment, piping, electrical power and controls placed inside the containers.

To develop its business in the field of cleaning frac water, it has set up an oil and gas division, and appointed Gerald Bailey, former president of Exxon for Arabian Gulf, Abu Dhabi and UAE, as "Industry Advisor" to the division.

"I was able recently to observe OriginOil's lab-scale frac flowback water treatment process," said Dr. Bailey. "The process is quite an achievement and has so much potential. I am looking forward to helping get this process into wide use in the oil and gas industry as a highly portable, high-flow and chemical-free way to maximize oil recovery and re-use the huge amounts of water used in oil exploration today."

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that an average of three barrels of contaminated water is generated for each one barrel of oil produced, OriginOil says.

Whilst in fracturing, 50% to 80% of frac water will remain in the ground, 20% to 50% will return to the surface as frac flowback water. This water is contaminated with hydrocarbons, salt (brine) and other contaminants.

PACE estimates that the normal cost to remediate frac water to class B purity (ground water grade) is roughly $0.21-0.26 per gallon $9 to $11 per barrel), and for disposal in deep wells, $0.11 per gallon.

The multi-step PACE process to achieve ground water grade that includes OriginOil's as a first step, is estimated to cost $0.07 per gallon ($3 per barrel).

Associated Companies
» OriginOil
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