Tapping Crude Oil: Designing CO2 Thickeners Continues at Pitt Through $2.4 Million Grant

Issue Date: 
February 25, 2013

Tapping crude oil more efficiently continues to be the focus of University of Pittsburgh engineers, who have received a $2.4-million grant from the United States Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). 

This award—in conjunction with a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Energy NETL (National Energy Technology Laboratory) grant awarded in October 2012—aims to increase the amount of oil produced in western and southern states through use of carbon dioxide (CO2) flooding, a process in which CO2 is injected into an oil reservoir for extraction.  

The project is headed by Eric Beckman, George M. Bevier Professor of Engineering and codirector of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt, and Robert Enick, NETL Regional University Alliance Faculty Researcher and Bayer Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, both within Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.  

“There’s a wide market for a new type of CO2 thickener that is more efficient and affordable,” said Beckman. “And CO2 is an ideal candidate for oil extraction given its ability to push and dissolve oil from underground layers of rock.”

Beckman and Enick’s design would improve upon a current CO2 flooding strategy, which involves injecting large volumes of water along with the CO2, known as a water-alternating-gas, or WAG. 

“If a thickener could be identified that could increase the viscosity of the CO2 to a value comparable to that of the oil in the underground layers of rock, then the need to inject water would be eliminated and more oil would be recovered more quickly,” said Enick. 

The ARPA-E award will also foster continued collaborations between the University of Pittsburgh and GE Global Research (who partnered on a previous ARPA-E award related to carbon capture) and between the University of Pittsburgh and researchers at the NETL facilities in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.V. 

Visit arpa-e.energy.gov to learn about this research and other related projects.