I gather the boffins at the University of Calgary are beside themselves with joy as they welcome Steven Bryant from Texas, a nanoscience researcher with long ties to oil industry research. From an Oct. 17, 2014 University of Calgary news release by Stéphane Massinon,
The greatest energy challenge of the 21st century is to meet energy demand from available fuels while drastically reducing society’s environmental footprint.
The challenge is massive. The solution, according to Steven Bryant, may be miniscule.
Bryant will lead and co-ordinate nanotechnology and materials science research at the University of Calgary, and the integrated team of researchers from across campus who will aim to drastically change how the oilsands are developed.
Bryant says Alberta’s oilsands are a key resource for meeting the world’s energy demands and the status quo is not acceptable.
“There is a huge desire to extract this energy resource with less environmental impact and, we think, conceivably even zero-impact, because of some of the cool things that are becoming possible with nanotechnology,” says Bryant.
“That’s kind of blue-sky but that’s one of the things we will be trying to sow the seeds for — alternative ways to get the energy out of this resource altogether. It’s a chance to do things better than we are currently doing them because of rapid advances in mesoscience.”
The mention of mesoscience called to mind the mesocosm project featured in an Aug. 15, 2011 posting (Mesocosms and nanoparticles at Duke University) although it seems that mesoscience is a somewhat different beast according to Massinon’s news release,
Mesoscience — technology developed at smaller than 100 nanometres — offers many tantalizing options to increase the efficiency of in-situ oilsands development, or Steam-Assisted Gravity drainage (SAGD). SAGD is the extraction process in which producers drill horizontal wells beneath the surface to pump steam into the underground oilsands reservoirs to loosen the oil and pump it to the surface.
SAGD is the method currently used to pump nearly one million barrels per day in Alberta and the output is forecast to double by 2022. SAGD uses considerable volumes of water and requires energy to heat the water to produce the steam that softens the underground oil that is caked in sand.
By using nanotechnology, Bryant and his team are working on reducing the amount of energy needed to heat water to create steam while also making the underground heat source more efficient at gathering more oil.
“The holy grail for the last 30 years has been trying to get CO2 to be less viscous. If you can do that, then you can get it to contact a lot more of the oil and for the same amount of CO2, you get a lot more oil produced. That turned out to be hard to do because there aren’t many chemical ways to make CO2 more viscous,” says Bryant.
By employing innovative approaches now, industry, environment and consumers can benefit greatly in the not-too-distant future.
“These alternative ways to get the energy out are at least 10 years away. So it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but it’s worth thinking about now to try to see what might be possible,” says Bryant.
Apparently, Bryant (no mention of family members) is terribly excited about moving to Calgary, from the news release,
Bryant is looking forward to working in Canada’s energy hub and says he will also work with industry to tackle oil production issues.
Industry wants to be more efficient at extracting oil because it saves them money. Efficiency also means reducing the environmental footprint. He believes oil companies will welcome the research produced from the university and said Calgary is the ideal place to be world leaders in energy production and energy research.
“The university is close to where the action is. All the major operators are in town and there’s a chance to take things from the lab to the field. The University of Calgary is very well situated in that regard.”
Bryant is joining the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering. Before accepting this position, he was at the University of Texas at Austin, as Bank of America Centennial Professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, and directed the Geological CO2 Storage Joint Industry Project and the Nanoparticles for Subsurface Engineering Industrial Affiliates Program.
Bryant pioneered the fields of digital petrophysics and nanoparticles for engineering applications, and has made some of the most significant advances in the past 20 years in porous media modeling, reactive transport theory and CO2 sequestration. Bryant has been published more than 280 times in books, book chapters, peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings on applications in production engineering, reservoir engineering and formation evaluation. Over his career, Bryant has led major research initiatives involving industry partnerships and trained over 90 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who found positions in several of the largest energy companies and national laboratories.
He looks forward to what happens next.
“There’s still a lot of cool, basic science to be done, but we’ll be doing it with an eye to making a difference in terms of how you get energy out of the oilsands. This won’t be business as usual.”
Meanwhile, there’s an Oct. 17, 2014 news item on Azonano that focuses on the University of Calgary’s response to receiving its first Canada Excellence Research Chair (a programme where the federal Canadian government throws a lot of money for salaries and research at universities which then try to recruit ‘world class’ researchers),
A world-leading nanotechnology researcher has come to Canada’s energy capital to become the first Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) at the University of Calgary.
Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification) Michelle Rempel announced today $10 million in federal funding to the university over seven years to create the CERC for Materials Engineering for Unconventional Oil Reservoirs. These funds will be matched by the University of Calgary.
The CERC has been awarded to renowned researcher Steven Bryant, who has joined the Schulich School of Engineering and will integrate a team of researchers from several departments of the Schulich School of Engineering and Faculty of Science.
An Oct. 17, 2014 University of Calgary news release (no byline is given but this is presumably from the university’s ‘corporate’ communications team), which originated the news item on Azonano,
Rempel said the federal government is focused on developing, attracting, and retaining world-leading researchers through record investment in science, technology and innovation. She added that Bryant’s application of new nanomaterials and technology will seek to develop new efficiencies within the oilsands industry while training the next generation of highly talented Canadian researchers.
“Our government is committed to ensuring advancement in sustainable energy resource technology. Dr. Bryant’s arrival at the University of Calgary will help consolidate Canada’s position as a global leader in this area. The research being conducted at the university is good for Calgary, good for the economy and good for Canada,” said Rempel.
President Elizabeth Cannon thanked the federal government for its financial support and said Bryant’s arrival vaults the university’s existing energy research to the next level.
“The University of Calgary is thrilled to have Dr. Steven Bryant join our energy research team, where he will play a key role exploring new and sustainable ways of developing unconventional resources,” said Cannon.
“We are confident that Dr. Bryant and his colleagues, working here at Canada’s energy university, will offer innovative solutions to the pressing challenges faced by our society: meeting ever-growing energy demands and drastically reducing our environmental footprint.”
In addition to the matching funds, the University of Calgary is planning additional support for major infrastructure and equipment for the CERC.
In 2008, the federal government launched the CERC program to encourage some of the most accomplished researchers around the world to work at Canadian universities.
The Canada Excellence Research Chair plays a significant role in the university’s energy strategy, which aims to make the University of Calgary a global leader in energy research. It is also critical to our Eyes High goal to becoming a top five Canadian research university.
Attracting world-class researchers to campus helps attract more students and post-docs to the university and exposes students and faculty to some of the world’s cutting-edge research.
Oddly, there’s no message of congratulations or recognition of this addition to Alberta’s nanotechnology community from Canada’s National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) located at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.