Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jason Trembly in the ISEE analytical lab
Photographer: Jill Bateman
Nov 2, 2012
By Colleen Carow and Leah Nairn
The Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE) – a research center at Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology – has been awarded more than $2 million in state and federal grants to support research to clean the wastewater that results from hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," on site.
The Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a non-profit corporation established to help meet the nation's growing need for the hydrocarbon resources produced from American reservoirs, awarded more than $1.9 million for the project, "Cost-Effective Treatment of Flowback and Produced Water via an Integrated Precipitative Supercritical (IPSC) Process."
The Ohio Third Frontier provided $50,000 in project funding, which received a match from both the Russ College and the Ohio University Office of Technology Transfer, for a total of $100,000.
"We've staked out our ground as a major resource for studying the effects of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing," said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin. "This research is a great example of socially responsible engineering with long-term impact for our region and far beyond," he added.
In the project, OHIO researchers, led by Associate Director of the Ohio Coal Research Center Jason Trembly, are teaming with Hess Corporation, Aquionics (which specializes in ultraviolet (UV) light treatment of water), Parker Hannifin and the Ohio Gas Association to develop, demonstrate and commercialize an innovative flowback/produced-water management process.
Trembly, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Russ College, says technology is a win-win for everyone.
"It eliminates the extra cost for transporting the water – and also eliminates the need for disposal sites, which addresses concerns about wastewater wells," he said.
The process uses technologies similar to those deployed at power plants and in refining industries. In the first, low-pressure portion of the process, UV and water softening technologies used in municipal wastewater treatment remediate bacteria in the water and remove hard water ions.
Then, via a pump, high-pressure wastewater is treated in a reactor powered by gas from the well. This process transforms the water into a supercritical state – where at very high pressures and at a very high temperature, the water takes on properties of both a liquid and a gas. The contaminants – salt and hydrocarbons – either precipitate out as solids or gasify into hydrogen, leaving only clean water. The salt can then be used for a variety of applications such as road de-icing, and the hydrogen is returned to the process to heat the reactor.
David Bayless, Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering, credits Trembly's ingenuity with the advances.
"Dr. Trembly is one of the bright, future stars of Ohio University," Bayless said. "Both awards regard technology he has developed to remediate the production of flowback water that comes from oil/gas wells. This is very impressive technology that could mean almost all of that water could be reused instead of hauled to a site for deep geological injection."
Over the next 24 months, the ISEE team will construct and operate a fully integrated prototype process capable of treating a barrel per day of flowback water. Data will be used to develop a detailed design for a commercial-scale unit and to further demonstrate the advantages of the process.
Christiane Schmenk, director of the Ohio Department of Development and chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, said the funding helps put Ohio at the forefront of new technology.
"These investments in Ohio's tech-based economy are critical to the growth of new technologies, ideas, and talent that make Ohio a leader in innovation," Schmenk said. "We are ensuring life-changing technology is supported while creating key industry jobs for Ohioans."