OIL

Technology to boost oil extraction fuels interest

UNIVERSITY of Queensland researchers claim to have developed nanotechnology that can boost extraction rates from oil fields.

Technology to boost oil extraction fuels interest

With oil companies sometimes leaving behind as much as two barrels for every barrel of oil they produce, this technology could significantly improve the economics of field development, said researchers from the university’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

Known as Pepfactants, the peptide technology can control the emulsions and foams used in a wide range of industry processes and could affect a range of products, from petroleum to specialty chemicals and therapeutic drugs.

Professor Anton Middelberg and Dr Annette Dexter developed the technology and details were published recently in the Nature Materials journal.

According to Professor Middelberg, Pepfactants is a disruptive technology with the potential to be used in ways that cannot yet be foreseen.

“Emulsions, or mixtures of two immiscible liquids like oil and water, are found just about everywhere from mayonnaise to moisturising cream to products for delivering chemotherapy drugs,” he said.

“Our process enables the reversible and controllable making and breaking of an emulsion or foam, in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. For example, Pepfactants allows for the very quick separation of oil and water as well as the reversible reformation of the emulsion.”

One application of the technology would be oil fields where water is used to force oil to the surface of the well, according to Middelberg.

“Pepfactants would allow the easy separation of the oil/water emulsion on the surface,” he said.

“Also, it would change the viscosity of the oil to increase the amount of oil extracted from each underground oil reserve.”

Pepfactants recently won an Emerging Technology Award at the TechConnect Summit 2006 Conference in Boston and is the subject of wide industry interest, the university said.

The University of Queensland’s main commercialisation arm, UniQuest, plans to license the technology into a start-up company and is seeking investment and strategic product development partners in Australia and overseas.

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