A concept for a halite-absorbing nano-sponge developed at Battelle has been named one of four winners in the first phase of the GE/Statoil Open Innovation Challenge. Battelle is one of two finalists chosen to progress to phase two of the competition, which will provide funding for further development and evaluation.
GE and Statoil launched the Open Innovation Challenge in 2015 to spur development of new water management technologies for the oil & gas industry. Water management is a significant challenge for onshore oil & gas development. This is especially true for shale gas developers, who use millions of gallons of water per well for hydraulic fracturing. Reducing freshwater use and finding better management solutions for brine and wastewater disposal are high priorities for the industry.
The Open Innovation Challenge received more than 100 submissions from across the globe. Four winners, including Battelle, were awarded $25,000 each for their water technology concepts.
Battelle’s winning concept, submitted by Anthony Duong, is a gel made up of nanoscale particles that can be injected into the hydraulic fracturing well. The nano-sponge material soaks up excess halite ions, which are the main actors in forming salt deposits. When halite ions are allowed to crystalize, they form deposits (scale) inside the wellbore and in pipelines that can eventually lead to blockages. Currently, operators reduce scaling by using chemical scale inhibitors and flushing with water to dissolve crystal formations. However, the chemicals used for descaling tend to be highly toxic, presenting health and environmental concerns. Water flushing requires large volumes of freshwater.
The nano-sponge could help oil & gas companies reduce their dependence on freshwater sources for flushing and replace toxic chemical scale inhibitors with a much less toxic alternative. The gel can be injected with water used for hydraulic fracturing or enhanced oil recovery or injected downstream to soak up excess halites and prevent the formation of salt crystals. The nanoparticles work by ion exchange. The material has low toxicity and much higher efficiency in preventing crystal formation compared to chemical scale inhibitors. The gel could potentially be recharged after it becomes saturated, further improving its environmental footprint and cost efficiency.
In phase two of the challenge, Battelle researchers will conduct lab-scale tests to confirm the concept. Eventually, they will conduct pilot-scale field testing for use in hydraulic fracturing. The nano-sponge material may have applications outside oil & gas, as well. It could be used in a variety of industrial processes where salt crystal formation is problematic.