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Cheaper and environmentally-safe: the future of Polish shale?
30.10.2014


The Polish shale gas sector has met with serious setbacks in recent years, both as a result of disappointing drilling results and disappointing legislation. However, the Polish government will introduce a new hydrocarbon bill that should make drilling more attractive. What is more, a Polish research consortium has developed a new, much cheaper and much more environmentally friendly method of extraction.

The second Blue Gas Competition results are in with some exciting results. The Blue Gas Competition is a joint undertaking of the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) and Industrial Development Agency (ARP) in Poland and is focused on supporting integrated large R&D projects, testing results in pilot scale and commercialization of innovative technologies in the area of shale gas extraction.”

Among the projects receiving over 50mln PLN in combined financing from the Blue Gas competition is DIOX4SHELL. This particular project focuses on using liquid CO2 (but in a completely different way to the one some companies use when utilising liquid CO2 for gas extraction) instead of water and chemicals for hydraulic fracturing.“

PGNiG is the project leader and the research is being done by academics from WAT, AGH and PW (Military University of Technology, AGH University of Science and Technology and Warsaw University of Technology). Researchers from WAT patented their designs two years ago and titled their project: “Development of guidelines for design of innovative technology of shale gas recovery with the use of liquid CO2 on the base of numerical and experimental research –DIOX4SHELL”. After independent experts (five in each case, at least two of whom had to be from overseas) evaluated each of the qualified projects, DIOX4SHELL was awarded 92.5 points out of 100.

The future of shale extraction?

Dr Danuta Miedzińska from WAT is one of the leading researchers on the project and, in preview of the next year’s Central and Eastern European Shale Gas and Oil Summit (9-10 March 2015) in Warsaw at which she, professor Niezgoda and their team of researchers will represent their work, she spoke on the details regarding DIOX4SHELL (for the full interview, please click here).

It’s surprising that this project has not been picked up by any media in Poland yet as it appears to be a technological breakthrough for the industry – both, from the operational and environmental perspective. The techniques used right now are far from perfect in either case, while this method is environmentally safe, does not require the use of water and added chemicals, and carries no risk of causing local earthquakes.

It would also be cheaper from the current method and extract four times more methane, as the DIOX4SHELL system was designed to work with the quirks of the Polish shale rock, rather than against them, as it has been so far.

This is wonderful news since, after the initial influx of investment in Poland, things have slowed down due to the challenging geology and political hiccups.

Out of 14 companies, which performed at least one exploratory drill in Poland, 5 are now gone. Apparently the results of their explorations were much worse than expected. Dorota Gajewska, press spokesperson for PGNiG told ‘Rzeczpospolita’ that those first wells showed that searching for shale gas in Poland is a geological and technical challenge.

To make matters worse, the Polish legal framework regarding hydrocarbon exploration and extraction was prohibitive for investors and many decided that Poland was simply not worth the effort.

But now, the new hydrocarbon bill is supposed to fix the legal situation, making life much easier for investors, while innovations like the ones financed by the Blue Gas competition should help with the geological challenges.

The method

After long research by the WAT team, the method developed is designed to extract shale gas and combine it with underground storing of CO2. According to Dr Miedzińska: “It differs immensely from the ones currently used by some companies. They use CO2 instead of water, so their fracking is simply pumping huge amounts of liquid, under high pressure, down towards the deposits, which causes fractures and through that a higher permeability of rocks, which leads to the extraction of gas. Unfortunately, with this method we also extract back the CO2.”

What the designed method involves is introducing “CO2 into the deposits as supercritical fluid – an incredibly cold liquid but under low pressure, with low viscosity and high mobility of molecules. This liquid, due to the temperature in the deposit (above 100 degrees Celsius) expands and causes fracturing. So we’re using a different physical process. We’re also planning to use this process not in one well but in several horizontal wells, which will increase its effectiveness.”

“Another phenomenon that works in our favour is the process of preferential adsorbtion of CO2 towards CH4 in the Polish shale. What it means is that normally most of the shale gas is adsorbed – or “attached” – to the porous surface of shale rock, but CO2 is able to “rip off” the methane particles and replace them – thus, we have a safe process of storing CO2 and increase, as much as by a factor of four the amount of extracted methane.”

The wait

This particular project should develop the required technology within the next two years (their work starts in December). The team of DIOX4SHELL researchers plan on solving all construction problems so that the method would available to be used in real conditions after those two years.

Their project, research and tested theories have proven so promising that they earned them the funding. However, as wonderful as it is that this new technology to reduce the costs and the controversy is in the making, for the investors, operators and the government it means another two years of waiting, while they struggle to extract viable amounts of shale gas by using the current methods.

Investing in innovation

It’s interesting to see how much the Polish government hopes to develop the shale gas sector. The financing differs for each Blue Gas project but the main aim of the programme is the development of technologies related to shale gas extraction and their implementation as well as encouraging entrepreneurs to invest in the R&D activities.

Research and development like this is crucial to the success of the shale gas industry in Poland reducing costs and attracting further investment. And if DIOX4SHELL is all it’s aiming to become – it could change the way shale gas is extracted not only in Poland, but also internationally.

Disclosure: This article was written by Zuzanna Marchant for the CEE Shale Gas conference that will be held in March 2015.


Dr Danuta Miedzińska from WAT is one of the leading researchers on the project and answered a few of our questions regarding DIOX4SHELL: We know that some companies use liquid CO2 when extracting shale gas. How does your project differ from the current technique?

Our method was built on the foundations of deep and thorough review of available solutions regarding different methods of hydraulic fracturing and extraction of gas, as well as review of available knowledge on the specifics of Polish shale deposits. This knowledge led us to develop a method of extracting shale gas combined with underground storing of CO2. This method differs immensely from the ones currently used by some companies. They use CO2 instead of water, so their fracking is simply pumping huge amounts of liquid, under high pressure, down towards the deposits, which causes fractures and through that a higher permeability of rocks, which leads to the extraction of gas. Unfortunately, with this method we also extract back the CO2.

Our method, developed at WAT, involves introducing CO2 into the deposits as supercritical fluid – an incredibly cold liquid but under low pressure, with low viscosity and high mobility of molecules. This liquid, due to the temperature in the deposit (above 100 degrees Celsius) expands and causes fracturing. So we’re using a different physical process. We’re also planning to use this process not in one well but in several horizontal wells, which will increase its effectiveness.

Another phenomenon that works in our favour is the process of preferential adsorbtion of CO2 towards CH4 in the Polish shale. What it means is that normally most of the shale gas is adsorbed - or “attached” - to the porous surface of shale rock, but CO2 is able to “rip off” the methane particles and replace them – thus, we have a safe process of storing CO2 and increase, as much as by a factor of 4, the amount of extracted methane.

The project’s concept was patented two years ago. Is there one person, whose idea the project was or has this always been a group effort?

The whole Department of Mechanics and Computer Science at WAT under the direction of professor Tadeusz Niezgoda worked on designing the method. The first stage, which involved researching the available technology and knowledge, included everyone; from postgraduates to professors. The stage of actually designing a new idea involved six people.

Your project received 92.5 points out of possible 100, but how did the grading system work? Was there a presentation?

The grading of the project happened in NCBR according to the rules of the Blue Gas competition. The description of the project was evaluated by 5 experts from Poland and overseas. Two results (the highest and the lowest) were discarded and the other ones were added. Evaluation focused on such aspects as innovativeness, the possibility of applying the results in Poland and worldwide, the risk of execution, potential of the contractors and improving the international competitiveness of Poland.

How much time do you think you need to perfect the method so that it can be used on a larger scale?

Our work will last two years (we begin in December 2014) and its purpose is to design a whole technological process of extracting gas based on our method. It involves a wide variety of work, especially in the lab (lowering the costs and the risk of research, immediately on a real well). We plan on solving all construction problems to ensure that this technology is possible to use in real conditions.

How are you progressing?

Before the project, we were at the stage of our own work, e.g. numerical simulations and research, which we could perform at the university. That work confirmed our theory, but for more in-depth research we require specialised equipment and work. Which is why, thanks to Blue Gas financing, we will be able to reach our goals in two years.

Is your method cheaper than the currently used one?

Of course the idea is that our technology should be cheaper than the current one (which is also ineffective on Polish shale!) for a few reasons: we would extract four times more methane from the deposits, we would store the CO2 (addressing the question of, for example EU limits) and we don’t use any water or chemical additives. So it’s benefits all around.

How about the question of environmental impacts? Especially when compared to the currently used water with added chemicals?

As I mentioned, CO2 as supercritical fluid possesses very specific physiochemical properties (low viscosity and high mobility of molecules), which mean that any chemicals that are required to mix water with sand are unnecessary. The described above process of storing CO2 is also safe for the environment, because the adsorbed CO2 will not leak from underground as is the case with other methods of geosequestration of CO2.

We need to add that our research has shown that the process of expanding of CO2 in the deposits (and what follows – the process of fracturing) is not sudden and so we have no risk of local earthquakes, as can be the case with hydraulic fracturing with the use of water.

You cooperate with AGH, PW and PGNiG. How fruitful is this cooperation?

We have built a team with PGNiG, AGH and PW, as a multitasking group. It successfully allows us to use specialist knowledge to work on the project. It is easily seen on the schedule of our planned work.

How did the cooperation start? Did PGNiG contact you or was it the other way round?

We contacted PGNiG. Their department of scientific cooperation was very open to the discussion and to new solutions. Long discussions with specialists from PGNiG allowed us to polish our method and convince the board that the risk tied to developing such innovative technology was worth it.

Will PGNiG have exclusive rights to your technology?

We need to separate two things: the method and the technology. The method, on which the project will be based, is patented and WAT is the owner of the patent. The question of patents concerning technology that will be developed during the project is described in the agreement between the partners working on the project.

How many people are involved in your project?

Several dozen people possessing specialist knowledge in the relevant areas such as mechanics, materials engineering, chemistry or geophysics will be working on the project. The work of each team will be overseen by the Scientific Council under the guidance of prof. Tadeusz Niezgoda and with the participation of prof. Jarosław Mizera – Dean of the Materials Engineering Department at Warsaw University of technology (PW) - as well as representatives from AGH and PGNiG. And also me – as I am honoured to be the project leader.

Is NCBR overseeing the project? If so, to what extent?

Of course, NCBR as the provider of the financial resources is overseeing the project. They analyse our reports – technical and financial - from the perspective of execution of the schedule and cost estimations.

Dr Miedzińska, Prof. Niezgoda and their team of researchers will represent the project at next year’s Central and Eastern Europe Shale Gas and Oil Summit in Warsaw (http://www.ceeshalegas.com/).


Source:

http://actmedia.eu
http://www.energypost.eu



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