Technology Addressing Bubble Trouble Could Bolster EOR, CO2 Storage
The bubbles on conventional foam used as a diversion fluid during injections for applications such as enhanced oil recovery were flagged by an Alberta researcher as a weak spot.
“It is not a stable condition,” Ali Telmadarreie, co-founder and chief executive officer of CNERGREEN told the DOB, drawing a comparison to dishwashing soap.
They’ll collapse and burst.
This University of Calgary spin-off has a technology that can tackle the issue.
“Foam is a great fluid for diversion, improving … efficiency underground for better oil recovery, better CO2 storage … but then when we go into practice, it is not happening as expected because of the stability of the bubbles.”
Whether CO2, gas, steam, hydrogen, or water, anything injected underground seeks the path of least resistance, such as fractures.
“You end up with a short circuit between injection well and production well,” explained Telmadarreie. To fix this issue, one can drill additional wells to access further sections of the reservoir or opt for a diversion fluid that he says “puts a stop sign on the highway.” In turn, more so-called highways are created.
CNERGREEN has a nanoparticle-based foam customized for each application dubbed ArmorFoam.
“We have technology that we can make stable bubbles with nanoparticles,” Telmadarreie said. “So what we do is we cover each individual foam bubble with a layer of solid nanoparticles.”
The company’s website details applications including EOR, pore space management for CO2 storage, and hydraulic fracturing.
“CO2 enhanced oil recovery and storage is one of your main targets because you can produce more oil while reducing carbon intensity by storing more CO2 underground,” noted Telmadarreie. “Energy recovery and storage, you can do both.
“Because our foam is really stable and strong, you can divert water … this is one of the unique features. Conventional foam is not known for water diversion.”
To that end, he touched on its potential future role in geothermal applications.
According to the CEO, one test the company did for a customer revealed “double the performance” of CO2 EOR and storage by using this technology.
Telmadarreie graduated from the PhD program in petroleum engineering at the University of Alberta, where his thesis was on CO2 foam for enhanced oil recovery and CO2 storage. His focus on foam continued while working at the University of Calgary in multiple capacities starting in 2017, and he has published more than 20 papers on foams.
At the U of C, he worked in a group with eventual CNERGREEN co-founder Steven Bryant.
“We found that nanoparticles will result in much better performance and that’s where we saw the big difference, and we saw interest from industrial partners at that point,” Telmadarreie said.
This was followed by a one-year license of their technology to what he describes as one of the largest gas producers in the world.
“That’s where we figured out — ‘OK, there is something here, why not commercialize it ourselves and start a company?’”
At the time this was written, CNERGREEN had four employees and worked with a few contractors. The company is currently designing a pilot for deployment later this year in Canada and the U.S.
“This will be the first ever nanoparticle foam technology that is injected underground,” Telmadarreie stated.
“Foam is not new, there has been numerous foam pilots in the world … but nanoparticle-based foam is the first one. You add the nanoparticle, you are getting a step-change improvement, incremental improvement.”
A hurdle for the company to clear is finding a customer and use case for the first pilot test.
Telmadarreie estimates about 99 per cent of relevant parties say, “‘this is really interesting, we need that, but we want to be second or third, not first.’”
“So, finding that first and early adopter to secure pilot tests, do the first new pilot and create a use case is very challenging, especially for downhole technology,” he said. “This is true for any new technology, but for downhole technology because of the risks and the cost, it is very challenging.”
The financing side plays into that as well. Right now, Telmadarreie said, it’s a chicken and egg dilemma.
“We have been in discussions with a lot of investors, they see the value and the vision of our technology for energy transition and improving efficiency in the oil and gas industry at the same time,” he continued. “We have a very good story, but most investors want to see traction with customers, pilots and revenue, as well.”
CNERGREEN expects to open a fundraising round early next year. In terms of investors, oil and gas companies would be ideal.
“We want to have strategic investors, so we can provide benefits to them as well,” Telmadarreie said. “Most big companies have a venture part that invests in technologies. That is our main target investor.
“We want to scale-up and access the market as soon as possible and leverage that.”