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June 2016 - Issue 8
Welcome to the Battelle Oil & Gas Newsletter. We put this together as a service to our friends in the oil and gas industry keep you informed of the latest news from our scientists and engineers and the industry.
Battelle works with oil and gas companies and others to advance the industry with the latest science and technology. Battelle Oil & Gas will keep you up-to-date on cutting edge technologies, services and processes.
Can rare earth elements (REEs) be economically recovered from coal and coal byproducts? Battelle researchers are conducting studies to find out. The project, “Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal with a Closed Loop Leaching Process,”funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Ohio Coal Development Office (OCDO), will develop and test Battelle’s patented closed-loop acid digestion process for recovery of REEs from Ohio-based Middle Kittanning coal and post-combustion coal ash.
REEs are a set of 17 elements found in the Earth’s crust that have unique chemical properties that make them highly valuable for many technology applications. REEs such as cerium, lanthanum and scandium have become essential components of technologies used in applications spanning electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. While REEs are not necessarily rare in nature, they are often difficult to extract. Over the last few decades, the number of applications for REEs has exploded, driving up costs and straining global supply chains. As a result, interest is growing in economically feasible approaches for REE recovery from alternative sources.
In response to this need, the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has selected 10 projects to receive funding for research into REE recovery. The selected research projects will focus on the development of cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches from domestic coal and coal byproducts.
Battelle, with support from its partners, is conducting research to validate the economic viability of Battelle’s patented closed-loop Acid Digestion Process (ADP) for recovering REEs from coal ash. Researchers will select coal sources with the potential to provide REE concentrations above 300 parts per million by weight, collect characterization data for coal ash samples generated via three different methods, and perform a techno-economic analysis for the use of the ADP in REE extraction. Three sources of coal ash will be targeted for evaluation in this project:
Making use of residual ash from coal liquefaction processes directly leverages work currently being conducted by Battelle for the U.S. DOE NETL and the OCDO entitled “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Research and Development Leading to Cost-Competitive Coal-to-Liquids Based Jet Fuel Production.”
Battelle’s Acid Digestion Process has the potential to concentrate the REEs in coal ash to a product of greater than 2% REEs by mass, while recovering greater than 90% of the nitric acid used. The proposed technology offers a number of benefits:
If these initial studies are successful, Battelle hopes to continue to develop the technology in Phase II of the NETL program. Successful execution would represent a significant breakthrough for the economic recovery of REEs from coal products.
Battelle scientists and engineers have also demonstrated a process that turns coal into jet fuel.
There are roughly 20,000 eastern gray whales plying the north Pacific seas. The tiny population of western gray whales, by contrast, may consist of just 150 individuals. While they are all part of the same species, one population is listed as of “least concern” for conservation purposes, and the other is considered “critically endangered.”
The dramatic difference in population size and protected status between the two populations highlights an important point: conservation efforts are now targeted not just at the species level but at specific populations within that species. As genomic research gives us more insight into marine mammal populations, it will become increasingly important for offshore oil & gas developers to understand the population dynamics of the species they coexist with.
Battelle researchers have been studying population genetics of marine mammals—including bowhead whales, gray whales, beluga whales, Steller sea lions and sea otters—for more than 10 years. Recent studies of bowhead whales off of the north coast of Alaska have helped to define distinct populations using genetics and genomics, better understand their migratory routes, and estimate the population sizes. These data have been used to both guide oil & gas development plans and to set hunt limits for indigenous populations that still depend on the whale for subsistence and ceremonial purposes.
A similar study of gray whales is underway currently. The study seeks to better understand the population size and migratory patterns of the endangered western gray whales and to define the genetic markers that distinguish them from eastern gray whales. This will help developers operating near Sakhalin Island, an important feeding area for the western population, make better conservation decisions. Using genomic data, researchers will be able to monitor population size and movements and determine whether whales found in proposed development areas are part of the western population or are far-ranging members of the eastern population.
Genomic research into marine mammal populations has gotten easier due to changes in technology over the last decade. Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) methods have made it dramatically faster, easier and cheaper to sequence DNA, making it possible to monitor marine mammals at both the population and individual level by their genomes. Traditionally, monitoring individuals might require matching biopsies taken from a particular whale at different times. However, researchers have discovered that DNA can be sequenced from shed cells and excretions left behind by animals as they move through the environment. Environmental DNA, or eDNA, allows researchers to monitor the movement of individuals and populations using seawater samples. This drastically decreases the costs and risks of biodiversity monitoring because researchers no longer have to biopsy or collect live animals.
The data gathered through these methods is critically important to understanding biodiversity at the population level in addition to the species level. Protecting endangered populations is essential to maintaining the genetic diversity of a species. Different populations may have different genes for disease resistance, for example, or may be better adapted to different environmental conditions. That’s why conservation efforts, including national laws and international treaties, seek to protect endangered populations even when the species as a whole is not endangered. For example, out of the 14 distinct populations of humpback whale that have been recognized, four have been proposed to be listed as endangered. Developers working in areas with humpback whales need to be aware of the specific populations that the whales belong to and target conservation efforts accordingly.
Battelle is pioneering new methods of collecting and analyzing DNA to make biodiversity and population studies faster and more economical for oil & gas developers and governing bodies. Battelle researchers also provide education and advice grounded in solid science to companies seeking to make conservation and development decisions. They are currently looking at eDNA methods to estimate population sizes and monitor individuals for land animals, such as polar bears, that may coexist in development areas.
Two samples of petroleum may look identical—but at the chemical level, their differences become apparent. Each sample has a chemical “fingerprint” that provides important clues to its origin. Battelle is nearing completion on a new study to characterize additional biomarkers for more accurate identification and attribution of crude oils and refined hydrocarbon fuels. With these additions, Battelle is now able to provide the most comprehensive hydrocarbon analysis and characterization available on the market today.
Battelle has expanded their hydrocarbon forensic toolkit to include additional classes of biomarkers including sesquiterpanes, adamantanes, diamantanes, monoaromatic steranes and selected alkyl cyclohexanes. Adding these biomarkers will allow researchers to perform more accurate and nuanced source attribution and provide new insights into how hydrocarbons change during refining, weathering or processing.
Using the additional biomarkers as well as traditional biomarkers (e.g. steranes, diasteranes, hopanes and triaromatic steranes), Battelle researchers have now analyzed 79 samples from around the world, including both raw crude oil and petroleum distillate examples. They also looked at natural coal formations and manufactured gas plant byproducts such as coal tar and creosote. The results will be used to create a “reference library” of chemical fingerprints that can be used for source attribution.
Hydrocarbon fingerprinting analyzes the chemical makeup of a sample to look for the presence and ratios of certain organic compounds. Crude oils contain hydrocarbon chains of various lengths as well as other organic compounds. These compounds act as biomarkers that help researchers distinguish between hydrocarbons from different sources; two samples with the same chemical fingerprint are highly likely to be from the same source. Hydrocarbon forensics uses these biomarkers to determine, for example, whether oil found in the environment is a result of nearby development activities or comes from other sources. It can also be used to apportion responsibility in a site contaminated by hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon byproducts from multiple sources.
As hydrocarbons are refined, their chemical fingerprints change as hydrocarbons of different molecular weights are separated and volatile organics are distilled out. Weathering also changes the chemical fingerprint. This can make it difficult to backtrack from a weathered sample, refined fuel or byproduct to its original crude source. Different biomarkers may be more useful for source attribution of refined fuels or byproducts.
Battelle’s expanded analytical toolkit and database will facilitate more accurate attribution of a wide range of crudes, refined fuels and hydrocarbon byproducts. The database will provide a starting place for comparison of new samples so chemists can determine what additional tests will be needed for definitive identification.
New sensor technologies have vastly increased the amount of data that operators have about downhole conditions and well productivity. But how do you turn all that data into better decision making? Battelle is developing analytical tools that use predictive modeling to help oil & gas developers maximize well productivity and reduce potential risks.
The first tool uses a predictive model that forecasts the downhole pressure as material is injected into a reservoir. The predicted pressure is modeled as a function of recent lagged injection rates and pressures, and an alert is signaled to the operator when that prediction is straying outside of acceptable limits. The model is integrated into a TIBCO Spotfire®application to visualize results. It is designed to help operators:
Most oil & gas analytical tools on the market today focus on summary results, which provide important insights but aren’t always useful for on-the-fly decision making. For example, operators managing wells in the field have to balance injection rates and downhole pressure in order to meet production targets. Operators tend to rely on experience and intuition to adjust settings based on aggregate data collected on an hourly basis. This results in sluggish response to any change in the downhole environment and the need for costly shut-ins to control production. Real-time sensor data analysis provides the capability to make more timely responses, leading to more efficient production. Data-driven modeling can help experienced and inexperienced operators better predict the outcomes of different alternatives and select the settings that will maximize well production. Eventually, similar tools could be used to automate some of these decisions, freeing operators to focus on higher-order decision making.
The Battelle model leverages sensor data to forecast production, identify potential issues, and recommend corrective action to avoid a shut-in. Real-time data is analyzed using sophisticated statistical modeling methods similar to those used by the financial, healthcare and intelligence/defense sectors. An anomaly detector algorithm monitors the data and predictions to detect divergences between the forecasted and observed data that fall outside of the historical range of variation. This allows the model to detect anomalies that may arise due to introductions of external sources of variation that are not accounted for in the model.
The predictive model was built using data collected during a CO2 injection experiment at the AEP Mountaineer power plant site from October 2009 through May 2011. The dataset contains pressure, injection rate, and temperature data sampled at one-minute intervals over the nearly two-year period.
The injection rate and pressure model is the first of several analytical tools Battelle plans to develop for the oil & gas industry. It builds on Battelle’s long history of work in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and risk modeling for oil & gas development. Similar modeling tools could be developed to help companies make better decisions on well siting, EOR options or risk mitigation.
Battelle has long been considered a leader in statistical modeling and predictive analytics. These same methods are already in use in the healthcare field to analyze quality indicator data and make clinical predictions. Battelle has also applied its analytical expertise to national defense, cybersecurity and genomics applications. For the oil & gas industry, they are now combining this expertise with deep experience in geophysical modeling, oilfield production, carbon sequestration and subsurface resource management to develop new statistical and modeling tools for the industry.
For nearly 20 years, Battelle has been working to develop new methods and technologies to make large-scale carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) viable for the oil & gas and energy industries. Over the next few months, Battelle researchers will share the lessons learned and results of large-scale field trials at industry conferences around the world.
Battelle has led the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (MRCSP) since 2003. Battelle completed three successful small-scale carbon storage field tests with MRCSP between 2003 and 2009 and is currently leading a large-scale storage test. Researchers have already evaluated and monitored more than 500,000 metric tons of CO2 injection in oil-bearing formations in Michigan.
At several upcoming conferences, project leaders will share updates from the large-scale trial as well as technical and geophysical knowledge gained. In addition, Battelle will present research findings on related topics such as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) applications, geophysical and geochemical assessment and modeling of storage potential, wellbore integrity assessment and pressure management.
When it comes to oil & gas, Mark Moody knows the drill. He’s been working in the industry in various capacities for nearly 40 years. His long career on the operations side of the business now informs his work as a Senior Field Geologist at Battelle.