Use carbon dioxide to make oil extraction an environmentally friendly industry and reduce damages caused by every day industrial processes.
It is the goal of a team of researchers led by the University of Bristol. Thanks to the Science and Technology Facility Council (STFC)’s ISIS Neutron Source, the team has come up with a new addiditive to treat CO2 and turn it into a valuable source for industrial processes.
The researchers have developed a soap-like additive for CO2 that turns it into a viable solvent for commercial-scale enhanced oil recovery to increase the amount of crude oil that can be extracted from oil fields. The additive, a surfactant, will help thicken the carbon dioxide, which is vital for this process, allowing it to flow through rocks more efficiently.
In the future, the process will take carbon dioxide generated by industrial activity from the atmosphere and lock it deep underground. Getting longer life out of existing oil reserves will also give more time for research into replacements into non-carbon energy sources such as solar or hydrogen.
Liquid CO2 is increasingly being used industrially to replace common petrochemical solvents because it requires less processing and it can be easily recycled. The difficulty has been that in order to operate effectively as a solvent, carbon dioxide needs additives, many of which are in themselves, damaging to the environment.
The quest to find a chemical capable of modifying the properties of CO2 to make it suitable for widespread use as a solvent in enhanced oil recovery has been a long one. Previous advances have involved surfactants containing fluorine, which although highly soluble in CO2, are very environmentally damaging. The new additive, surfactant TC14, contains no fluorine at all and is a harmless hydrocarbon.
CO2, on the contrary, offers an efficient, cheap, non-toxic, non-flammable and environmentally responsible alternative to conventional petrochemical solvents. Even water as a solvent for example, comes with its own set of problems; after being used to flush out oil from rocks it then requires cleaning before it can be used again, whereas liquid CO2 can be re-used immediately.