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Focused Energy Solutions

The need for practical, economical, and environmentally sound energy solutions has never been more urgent. The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) has a strong energy research heritage in conducting applied research and development in pursuit of real-world solutions to pressing energy and environmental issues for clients worldwide.

As energy sources and needs have changed, the EERC’s facilities have grown and changed with them. In recent years, the EERC’s market has focused more on oil and gas. The Center has analytical capabilities suitable for determining key properties of subsurface rocks and materials used throughout the petroleum industry and laboratory facilities, expertise, and experience to perform all scales of materials analysis and reservoir characterization.

Just as EERC research scientists and engineers work together in teams, the laboratories collaborate on the work they do. The EERC has over 47,000 square feet of state-of-the-art research facilities. Twelve laboratories are housed in the EERC complex: the Analytical Research Laboratory (ARL), the Applied Geology Laboratory (AGL), the Environmental Chemistry Laboratory, the Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, the Fuels Analysis Laboratory, the Fuels and Materials Research Laboratory, the High-Temperature Materials Laboratory, the Mercury Research Laboratory, the Natural Materials Analytical Research Laboratory (NMARL), the Particulate Research Laboratory, the Process Chemistry and Development Laboratory, and the Water and Wastewater Treatability Laboratory. Not all are currently involved with oil and gas projects.

“Although we provide focused solutions in all energy areas, the market has grown in the last few years from one focused primarily on coal, emission control, and renewable energy to include oil and gas production and carbon capture, utilization, and storage,” said Senior Research Manager Beth Kurz, who oversees the laboratory facilities serving the Oil and Gas Group.

“An example of how work has changed in the labs is the NMARL. The NMARL offers analytical services designed specifically to address engineering problems in a wide range of fields. For many years, the NMARL was primarily focused on coal, looking at coal slag deposits. The lab still does a lot of work in those areas, but we’re doing a lot more work now in terms of characterizing geologic samples as they relate to oil and gas applications, which will lead to a better understanding of oil and gas reservoirs and the implications for oil and gas production,” said Kurz.

Development of one of the largest unconventional oil and gas plays in North America is occurring in North Dakota and Montana, with oil from the Bakken and Three Forks Formations being produced at over 800,000 barrels a day. It is estimated that there are hundreds of billions of barrels of oil in these formations, and development is expected to continue for at least another decade. While the development will ultimately enhance national energy security, it will have challenges.

Today’s oil and gas exploration and production projects begin with detailed applied research and characterization, whether the purpose is to revitalize vintage oil fields or enhance oil production from unconventional reservoirs. Past EERC evaluations have focused on assessing petroleum systems throughout the Williston, Denver– Julesburg, Alberta, and Powder River Basins. Specific assessments have focused on the determination of proppant strength and conductivity, mechanical rock properties, petrophysical characteristics of rocks, and chemical effects of rock and fluid interactions. In each case, EERC researchers have worked with industry and government partners to provide results of site-specific evaluations conducted at multiple scales of examination.

The NMARL offers analytical services designed specifically to address engineering problems in a wide range of fields. Analytical facilities combined with an experienced team of researchers provide a full range of advanced materials characterization and data interpretation using scanning electron microscopes equipped with x-ray microanalysis, quantitative chemical analysis, image analysis, and mineral phase mapping; x-ray fluorescence (XRF); and x-ray diffraction (XRD), including quantitative phase analysis and clay-typing analysis.

Several current EERC oil and gas projects involve the revitalized Bakken Formation and the Three Forks–Sanish Formation. The AGL’s advanced applications can characterize the formations for well drilling, stimulation or hydraulic fracturing of the surrounding rock, and well completion. The AGL looks at the porosity (spaces between grains) and the permeability (the ability of liquid to flow through the spaces) of rocks. Because the Bakken Formation is primarily very tight rock with very low permeability and low porosity, the nature and geometry of fractures formed in the rock during hydraulic fracturing are important to allow the oil to flow from the rock and into the well. The fractures will close up unless held open by proppants such as sand or ceramic beads, which allow the oil to flow better and for a longer period of time. Thus the nature and strength of proppants are also important areas of study.

The AGL has the equipment and the ability to perform geomechanical and petrophysical testing to determine the basic physical and geochemical characteristics of rocks. Geomechanical testing capabilities include uniaxial compression, triaxial compression, consolidation or constant rate of strain testing, Brinell hardness, fluid analysis, optical mineralogy/thin-section analysis, and batch reaction exposure studies. Petrophysical testing capabilities include porosity/bulk volume/grain volume/grain density, permeability to air and water, optical profilometry, cloud point, geological interpretation, and fracture analysis.

The ARL provides quality data, flexibility, and rapid turnaround time in support of research activities at the EERC. The lab employs standardized and novel analytical procedures to determine major, minor, and trace constituents in a wide variety of sample types: fossil fuels, biomass, combustion by-products, geologic and plant materials, groundwater, high-TDS (total dissolved solids) reservoir brine, and wastewater.

“A number of years ago, the EERC was heavily involved in several water projects, primarily to determine the effect that agricultural chemicals had on groundwater,” said Carolyn Nyberg, manager of the EERC ARL. “Water testing is again at the forefront of our work, but now it’s in support of oil and gas and carbon capture and storage projects.”

For example, groundwater and surface water analyses are being performed to better characterize the water in the vicinity of an oil field. The Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership is monitoring and studying the injection of over a million tons of CO2 a year into oil fields as part of its mission to assess the viability of carbon capture and storage underground. The water analyses are done as part of the project’s monitoring, verification, and accounting (MVA) program to ensure that the CO2 remains stored underground in the target injection zone.

The Environmental Chemistry Laboratory has conducted groundbreaking work toward understanding the chemistry of water and carbon dioxide under reservoir conditions. This knowledge along with other laboratory and CO2 storage research activities helps to provide solutions for CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and storage markets.

As the oil and gas industry continues to grow in the region, EERC laboratories will continue to work jointly to conduct a multitude of standard and nonstandard tests designed and implemented to exceed client needs. From microscale electron microscopy through macroscale core evaluations, the EERC has the capabilities and know-how to address the research needs of the petroleum industry.

For more information on the EERC laboratories, click here.

Saving the Past for the Future

The EERC Library and Information Services (LIS) group, one of seven groups in the Administrative Resources (AR) area, may work quietly in the background, but its mission to record, archive, and quickly deliver nearly any information published, housed, or requested by someone at the EERC is crucial to this world-renowned research facility’s success.

“The LIS group covers the Library, it covers all of the EERC’s records functions, it covers the archives, and it covers the Rolodex,” said Deb Haley, Associate Director for Marketing, Outreach, and Administrative Resources. “I am very proud of the caliber of the LIS group and their enthusiasm for record retention.”

“We’ve been trying to reshape our identity, and the perception of it, since I started in 2002, when the Library was a separate entity from the records,” said Rosemary Pleva Flynn, Librarian and Manager of LIS. “The Library has a function that a lot of people understand—paper or electronic access to material—whereas records are not as easily understood but are just as important to an organization.”

Flynn has a staff of two: Clara Chambers, Research Information Associate (RIA), and Lila Christensen, a part-time RIA and Records Management Associate. Christensen is primarily responsible for the EERC research records, and Chambers is responsible for the EERC correspondence records, both maintained through the EERC Records database. Chambers is also responsible for the EERC Rolodex, consisting of contact information including mailing addresses, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses for clients and other contacts. Three University of North Dakota (UND) student assistants also work in the Library: Amy Feller, Hannah Hagen, and Jessica Knutson.

“We are very customer service oriented. Most of our ‘customers’ are researchers who work right alongside us on a daily basis, so we get to know them quite well.” Flynn said. “Our concerns are, are the books accessible, are the reports accessible, are we able to generate the mailing lists that we need to generate? What can we do to improve our efficiency and the services that we have to offer? We have even changed the way we think about the records that are our responsibility. Essentially, we have permanently active archives. It is not uncommon for us to get requests for EERC reports and other products done 10 or 20 years ago. It is important for us to maintain access to all of these records, regardless of when or how they were created.”

To accomplish this, Flynn, Chambers, and Christensen have made a number of improvements and changes in the last few years, including computer hardware changes to deliver requested electronic versions of EERC products more quickly, a totally new EERC Records database to manage and provide access to EERC products and, most recently, scanning EERC correspondence records for electronic retrieval and full-text searching.

“The EERC Library, which is one of three branch libraries at UND, originally was a Bureau of Mines library,” said Flynn. When the Grand Forks Energy Technology Center was defederalized in 1983 and became part of the university, all of the library items came with it and still form the bulk of the EERC Library’s physical book and journal collection. “Newer items come to us as projects are finished,” said Flynn, adding, “We stay current through journal subscriptions, many of which are only available electronically through the Web now.”

Digitization of material has meant that researchers around the world can share information easily, but Flynn warns that researchers who have grown up with electronic records and access might not recognize that many older records are not digitized or that not all records are available through all databases. For example, many of the government publications created by the EERC and its predecessors have been scanned and are now available online through DOE’s Energy Citations Database or Information Bridge. However, for every item scanned, many more have not been. In some cases, the paper copies maintained here may be the only copies that are readily accessible.

Researchers and the LIS staff utilize several electronic databases to which the EERC or other UND campus libraries have subscriptions that provide access to bibliographic information on research articles, conference papers, and reports along with links to the full text when available. Two of the most widely used are Scopus and SciFinder. Other well-used databases at the EERC are GeoRef and OnePetro, which are both used extensively by the PCOR Partnership and oil and gas programs.

Flynn is often asked why some information does not come up in a Google search. Google gets at a lot, she said, but there are many databases in the “deep Web,” like the Energy Citations Database and Information Bridge, that surface Web search engines cannot get into because they were designed not to be searched or they do not interface well enough for a search to be run. OSTI, the Office of Science and Technical Information for DOE, which hosts a number of databases, created the metasearch engine to search many of the science and technology databases funded by the U.S. government.

Flynn says that every discipline has at least four or five multidisciplinary databases that generally cover a discipline plus others that are very specific to it. It is difficult for researchers to be able to access everything or find everything indexed in just one place. That’s where Flynn comes in. She knows the research groups at the EERC, what they are working on, and the types of resources they request as well as whether those resources are available online or if they must be found in physical form. When Flynn hits a dead end in a search, she calls Nerac, a research information services provider.

“We contract with Nerac and use it a lot for intellectual property searches, but we also use it for initial literature reviews if we’re starting a new project or moving into a new area. The company has access to many more databases than we do, so if we’re really stuck, we’ll turn it over to them,” said Flynn. “Their information analysts are scientists who’ve worked in industry before. Even within chemistry or physics, you may have two different disciplines, say organic or inorganic chemistry. I am just not going to have that expertise, so Nerac has been able to help us out in a few cases where I couldn’t find anything substantial.”

As a Certified Archivist, Flynn is well equipped to assist researchers with finding information online, in the stacks, or even in a drawer somewhere in the back of the geology library on campus. Unlike librarians or records managers, archivists often deal with unpublished or historical items and are concerned with their physical preservation as well as the information they convey.

Flynn is a graduate of the Archives Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received her Masters of Library Science (M.L.S.) degree from Indiana University and her M.A. degree in Social Science and B.S. degree in History from Ball State University. Before she came to the EERC, Flynn served as a Project Archivist at Indiana University. During her M.L.S. work, she took a readings class with Phil Bantin, one of the early electronic records archivists, whose work shaped her interest in electronic records and electronic record keeping. Flynn is an active participant in several professional organizations, including the Society of American Archivists, the Midwest Archives Conference, and the North Dakota Library Association, and has taught workshops for many of these organizations. She strongly believes in giving back to the professional organizations that have helped mold and develop her skills.

“Currently I am chairing the Society of American Archivists’ Glossary Working Group,” said Flynn. “We are revising and expanding A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, which was published in 2005. It is a pretty major undertaking and responsibility, with the core work being done by a very small group of people, me included.”

Flynn and her staff are well trained and cross-trained for the technical work they do in the Library and in records. Flynn stressed that there is something intangible that makes one a really good research librarian, though. 

“It is a special skill set. Not everyone is a searcher, not everyone can recognize or wants to follow the trail,” Flynn said with passion. “You get really excited when that thing that you’ve been looking for all day—all of a sudden you find one little clue. Sometimes that one little piece of information or that article can make a huge difference in the research. The excitement that the researchers have in the work they’re doing, we have that excitement in finding the information that feeds into that. We don’t just quit because we can’t find it within the first 30 minutes.”

Green Light Requisites for Biopower

I hail from Wisconsin, so whenever I hear of a biomass power project being developed there, my interest is piqued. On a recent family trip back to my old stomping grounds of central Wisconsin, I heard coffee shop talk of a new biopower plant being built near the city of Rothschild. So I did a little investigating because I’m always amazed at the circumstances that allow or deny the development of a successful biomass power project. Through the years, I have devised some simple requisite conditions for success.

At least in the current U.S. power environment, here are my proposed simple requisite conditions: 1) competitive biomass feedstock cost, 2) brokerable biomass feedstock supply, 3) financial incentives, 4) reliable conversion technology, and 5) a committed utility and supportive community. The Wisconsin biopower plant gives us a good model example for what I see as having all the correct pieces of the biopower success puzzle in place.

First of all, the cost and supply of biomass feedstocks (Requisites 1 and 2) that can be brokered and guaranteed go hand in hand. For many business scenarios involving biomass, the resource is discovered at seemingly the right cost and the nearby community gets excited about consuming a few megawatts of green power. But then the reality of harvesting, transporting, and processing that biomass from field or forest to fuel silo at the power plant kills the entire venture. Sometimes, even though the feedstock reliability and cost look good, once the utility announces a higher electricity cost relative to established fossil-based electricity, the customer cries foul and the project never starts.

In the case of the Wisconsin power plant, the biomass will consist of residues from sawmills and pulp mills, which usually implies lower cost. It will be facilitated by a paper mill infrastructure that has decades of operation and experience in this region, which usually implies sustainability. This power plant is connected to an industry that has been buying and selling forest wood for over a century, which usually implies a greater ability for this biomass resource to be brokered. I remember the smell of paper mills as a kid, and my father once owned a tract of northern Wisconsin forest that he had “pulped out,” one summer, as he would say. That was slang for having the timber harvested as pulpwood for paper production. This infrastructure goes back decades and provides assurances to banks, communities, and power providers so that they are more apt to get behind a biopower project. This type of infrastructure or the ability to create it at a reasonable cost is essential for success. I think some of these principles can apply to other feedstocks.

That covers Requisites 1–3 and part of 5. For Requisite 4 (reliable conversion technology), the $268 million 50-MW plant is being spearheaded by Domtar Corporation. This company already operates 15 pulp and paper mills in North America, with the majority of the process steam and heat requirements fueled by renewable fuels such as biomass and black liquor, a product of papermaking. The power plant will use conventional small steam boiler combustion technology and emission control technology that have been around for decades.

Finally, I need to delve into incentives, since they are almost always necessary to make biopower projects work (Requisite 5). Since 2005, the state of Wisconsin requires investor-owned electric utilities, municipal electric utilities, and rural electric cooperatives (electric providers) to meet a gradually increasing percentage of their retail sales with qualified renewable resources. The current state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) establishes the goal that by the end of 2015, 10% of all electric energy consumed in the state will be renewable energy. We Energies and Domtar announced this project over 5 years ago as a step toward this RPS goal. Another incentive that is aiding this project and others like it is the U.S. federal 1.1¢/kWh production tax credit which has been around in some shape or form since the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The recent fiscal cliff deal of early 2013 has essentially extended this credit through 2014.

In the end, at least in my opinion, this project should end as a renewable power success story since it has all of my prescribed requisite conditions. It might seem nerdy to my family, but on my next visit back to the homeland, I just might stop by to get a tour.

By Chris J. Zygarlicke, Deputy Associate Director for Research, Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) 

Around the World in 7 days

Jason Laumb, Senior Research Manager, and Josh Stanislowski, Research Manager, flew to Melbourne, Australia, in December to conduct a full-day short course on coal gasification technologies. Laumb also presented a keynote address at a full-day seminar on coal to products in Melbourne the next day.

The short course was sponsored by Brown Coal Innovation Australia (BCIA), a nonprofit organization tasked with investing proactively in the development of technologies and people that broaden the use of brown coal for a sustainable future (BCIA Web site).

“BCIA is similar to our Lignite Energy Council in North Dakota. It funds research for furthering the use of brown coal in Australia,” said Laumb. “Course participants came from a wide range of occupations: university researchers, technology vendors, consultants, and even some business people for whom this was their first exposure to gasification.”

The course is designed to provide an overview of the diverse nature of available gasification processes and technologies, depending on feedstocks, products produced, and environmental goals. The course covers commercial technologies, end products, and cost analysis aspects.

Australia has about 25% of the world’s known reserves of brown coal, which is a low-rank coal similar to North Dakota lignite. The biggest challenge with brown coal, according to Laumb, is that it can have over 60% moisture. The coal is difficult to burn, pulverize, and feed. Laumb said the Australians have done beneficiation work over the years both with thermal processes, where the coal is dried before gasification, and with different mechanical processes, where the moisture is removed up-front of putting the coal into the gasification system.

Laumb’s keynote address was on coal to products in the United States, what past coal-to-products projects have been, and what the future looks like for coal to products. Potential products include electric power, liquid fuels, chemicals, fertilizers, synthetic gases, natural gas, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and other materials. Laumb said the true path forward will depend greatly on CO2 policy.

“The purpose of our trip was to present the gasification course, but we were able to make use of that time when we were in country to meet with as many people and groups as we could,” said Laumb. “We had meetings set up in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney with potential partners, some of whom are interested in our gasification testing capabilities and some of whom are doing work similar to the EERC’s work with CO2 capture and sequestration, so we looked at ways we could enhance each other’s programs.”
While it was an extremely productive trip, Laumb said the jet lag caught up with him when he got home.

“It was a total of nine flights in 7 days for 19,000 flight miles round-trip, which is nearly equivalent to flying around the world,” Laumb noted. “It’s a 15-hour flight between Sydney and Los Angeles, with a 7-hour layover in LA. Josh and I watched a lot of football in the airport.”

Redefining The Bakken

When John Harju and his research team are finished working on a $115 million project aimed at modeling the potential of the Three Forks Formation and Middle Bakken benches, the Williston Basin will never be the same. Consider the recoverable oil estimates provided by Harju, Associate Director for Research at the Energy & Environmental Research Center, estimates that could potentially result from the research effort.

“The U.S. Geological Survey has published their new estimates (roughly 7 billion barrels of recoverable oil),” Harju says. “That is a number that as far as we are concerned is in the rearview mirror.”
The conservative nature of the USGS’s estimates combined with emerging technology and constant discoveries in the Bakken have Harju confident that the real number of recoverable oil in the Williston Basin ranges from 30 billion to 50 billion barrels.

For anyone shocked by those numbers, or anyone unconvinced of Harju’s estimations, the names of the exploration and production partners involved in the research assessment combined with EERC’s success with Bakken research, should help ease any concerns that the Bakken oilfield is still getting bigger. Continental Resources Inc., the largest producer in the Bakken, headlines the list of those submitting time, effort and geologic data to EERC for use. As for the institution’s success in the Bakken and how it will play a role in redefining the play, knowing what they know is the best place to start.

The Basics
The simplistic way that Harju and his team think of the Bakken can be described with a reference to a kitchen and a dining room. Conventional resources, unlike the Bakken, are like dining rooms when compared to a kitchen. Harju explains. Unconventional resources are like the kitchen, “that is where oil is made.” In the era of old-technology, prior to today’slong horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracture methods, E&P companies needed to find oil in the dining room.

Conventional resources, or dining rooms, are places with both high rock porosity and high permeability that feature some sort of trap that oil has been captured by. “In essence, the oil has moved into those reservoirs and got stuck,” Harju says. “That was the art of petroleum exploration pre-unconventional.”

The Bakken however, is like the kitchen where oil is made. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing, E&P companies can now research rock formations such as the Williston Basin that feature impermeable, relatively low porosity formations and engineer a reservoir where there wasn’t one. “You are making reservoirs out of source rocks,” he adds, or as the kitchen to dining room analogy goes, E&P companies are turning the
kitchen into the dining room.

The Not-So Basics
While Harju may be able to explain the Bakken Formation and general geology in simple terms of the Williston Basin to anyone willing to listen, his insight on the play can be incredibly complex and valuable to understand the future of the resource. The EERC team has previously worked on water management and water recycling; an effort that Harju explains will help them to develop a new water utilization method that has recently started to work in the Bakken. Previous research by Bethany Kurz, senior research manager, on the play’s water utilization opportunities have given the EERC team a strong base of knowledge for all water-related work. Harju says the team learned current technology isn’t particularly well-suited for flow back or saltwater created during the drilling and production process. Flow back’s tend to be slow in rate and high in salinity.

A typical Bakken flow back will consist of roughly 20 percent salt. As a point of reference, Harju says, seawater is only 3.5 percent salt. If a completion team injects 4 million to5 million gallons of water into a well it might take a year or two to get that water back.

“There is so much capital deployed for so little volumetric treatment opportunity that it poses an economic challenge,” he says.

In addition to the slow return rate and high salinity, a rock formation in western N.D. offers an exceptional saltwater disposal location. “It is an absolutely perfect disposal  zone because it is isolated from the hydrocarbons and it is far below fresh water zones.”

Within the past year however, the EERC team has begun researching the use of saltwater in salt tolerant gels, a practice currently being employed by a handful of production companies. In a typical fracture process, a completion team will use guar gum or another gelling agent to stop the proppant or sand and water mixture from getting stuck in the heel of the well, the portion between the vertical and horizontal casing sections. The guar gum creates a more viscous fluid and keeps the sand in suspension as it travels to the point of the fracture. The new gelling agents can take the place of guar gum, Harju says, and help to recycle flow back water for use in the fracture process. Although research into the new salt tolerant agents is new, Harju expects it to be an area of growth for his team and the Bakken.

In addition to wastewater recycling, the EERC team is also working to establish the best possible approach to enhanced oil recovery (EOR). For the last year, the team has been analyzing and working to test the use of CO2 injected into an oil well as a vehicle to mobilize previously trapped oil droplets, allowing for the recovery of more oil. Currently, the percent of oil recovered in the Bakken resource is roughly 3 to 5%. “If we can change 3 percent to 5 percent to 4 percent to 6 percent,” he says, that is very meaningful. “The denominator on this research is so huge that single type percent increases in recovery are extremely meaningful. A one percent increase of recoverable oil translates to roughly $150 billion of value.”

To find that value, EERC has started to analyze two unsuccessful Bakken EOR pilot projects: one in the Elm Coulee field of Montana and the other in Mountrail County  of North Dakota. The team has arranged a data sharing agreement that will help them better understand the efforts. According to Harju, the EERC team has developed some exciting tests that could help prove Bakken EOR by 2014.

Previous attempts to recover additional oil used a huff and puff method of injection, with very large volumes of CO2 injected into single wells with the hope of mobilizing oil in the vicinity of those wells. The attempts revealed that CO2in the Bakken is very mobile, and according to Harju, it was difficult to retrieve the CO2 and any incremental oil. Previous unsuccessful attempts to prove EOR with CO2 aren’t deterring Harju and the team, however.

Because the rock formations in the Williston Basin are typically oil wet with a thin film of oil covering each tiny granule, the use of water flooding, a process that pushes water through a fractured reservoir to mobilize additional droplets of oil, isn’t an option. Using water, he adds, would only push the oil deeper into the formation. But, CO2 when dissolves into oil it swells, a process that if done correctly, can essentially pop off the unrecovered oil droplets from the tiny granules. “We are very bullish on this.”

The only thing that really competes with EOR in the Bakken is the adoption of refracking practices. To date, Harju says he is only aware of approximately 100 wells have been refracked. Of those, roughly 10 percent have had little success while another 10 percent have shown tremendous success. In the Barnett Shale of Texas, a similar formation  (although primarily a gas field) to that of the Bakken, refracking is highly prevalent, and secondary fracturing operations can yield nearly identical results to initial production. “I think we are very much in the infancy [of Bakken refracking] and design and how to choose the right refrack candidates,” he explains.

“We still have hundreds of wells that haven’t even been fracked once.”

The New Era
Work on saltwater tolerant gels or EOR methodology may have given the EERC team, and the entire Bakken industry, a better understanding of the play, but work on the Three Forks Formation will usher in a new era. Based on initial estimates and data projections on the Three Forks Formation’s potential, a single well pad could house 20 wells: four laterals into the Middle Bakken and four laterals into each discrete bench of the Three Forks.

“This is a big new project that is hugely exciting,” he says. “It is focused on helping to better define the resource.”

The project will also research ways to optimize production methods and provide ways to yield better economics while reducing the environmental footprint of all operations. The play is no longer about finding and securing oil through leases, he says, but rather about finding an orderly way to develop the resource. For the Three Forks Formation work, the end goal is a 3 dimensional model that will be available to the partners in the project and the state. Roughly 65 percent of the funding awarded to the EERC from the state will be used to provide a reservoir characterization model. To do that, the team will use microseismic, geophysical and bore hole logging data. Using geophones, the team will listen to fractures as they are being stimulated to produce new data. The research will last roughly three years and will rely heavily on data logs from Continental Resources, Marathon Oil and Whiting Petroleum Corp. The data compilation project is the first of its kind for the Three Forks Formation, and will also likely include  partners from outside the production industry, and additional oil companies.

“You end up feeling like a very insignificant part of these very large teams,” Harju says. “This is decades and decades of oil and economic vitality to the state. I feel very privileged to be involved with it.”

Luke Geiver, The Bakken magazine

2013 Edition of Energy & Environmental Research Center’s “Bakken Map” Released

The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) in Grand Forks, North Dakota, released the 2013 edition of its map representing drilling activity in the Bakken and Three Forks Formations in western North Dakota. The “Bakken map,” designed and produced with support from 20 industry sponsors, has been distributed to more than 8000 recipients, including attendees of the 2013 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference (WBPC), all members of the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC), map sponsors (including producers and service providers), state legislators, and local governmental officials.

The newly produced map represents follow-on work the EERC conducted in 2011 and 2012 in the Bakken system through EERC oil and gas programs, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and, specifically, the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

“We have seen a tremendous upsurge in interest in these maps over the last 3 years. In fact, requests for the map have exceeded supply for both the 2011 and 2012 editions. This year we have printed even more, in anticipation of increased distribution,” said EERC Associate Director for Research John Harju. “With each new addition, we add additional features, which are of particular interest to those in our industry. On behalf of the NDPC and the EERC, I would like to thank and acknowledge the support of our map sponsors for their continued involvement and commitment to its production.”

This new edition identifies all Bakken/Three Forks wells drilled in North Dakota and neighboring areas of Canada and Montana through the end of calendar year 2012. A newly added diagram in the lower right-hand section of the map illustrates trends in well completion statistics, showing how technology has changed over the last several years.

In addition to wells drilled, an updated production graph shows the increased growth of resource extraction in the Bakken System. Because of continued interest, the EERC also maintained and enhanced the figure that illustrates overall Williston Basin stratigraphy and further details it for the Bakken System.

Previous updates to the map in 2011 and 2012 included highlighting “notable wells” to illustrate the evolution of the Bakken System's discovery and prolific production over time.

Well data for the map were obtained by the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Department of Mineral Resources and the respective state and provincial oil and gas resource offices for Montana and Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada.

For more information on the EERC’s Bakken–Three Forks-related activities, visit Copies of the map can be ordered online at the Resources section on the NDPC Web site).

Feedstock Diversification: Today's Technologies Are Meeting the Multiple-Source Challenge

It has long been understood that commercially available, large-scale gasifiers are an imperfect fit for biomass conversion. Fuel sourcing, preparation, and feed problems—combined with unique ash properties and tar production—made it very challenging to reliably operate a large gasifier on renewable sources. Is this still true today?

Researchers at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) are not convinced, and they are gathering the data to make their case.

A multifaceted team of engineers and scientists at the EERC is performing tests to demonstrate that there are near-term opportunities for large-scale biomass gasification. The team is focused on testing the performance of coal and biomass blends in systems that mimic commercially available gasifiers. The testing at the EERC is in support of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology’s (CCAT) efforts to identify alternative sources of liquid fuels for military applications. Several pilot-scale test campaigns have been completed to date at the EERC that demonstrate the ability to gasify various sources of biomass blended with various ranks of coal. The testing is in support of CCAT’s work for the U.S. government to help identify potential alternative sources of liquid fuels that have an equal or better carbon footprint than traditional liquids.

By developing systems that can produce alternative liquid fuels and power, the U.S. military sees the potential for improved energy security, competitive fuel costs, increased efficiency, and environmental sustainability. Cofeeding biomass with coal and utilizing CO2capture technologies will allow CO2 emissions from these advanced energy technologies to be minimized.

When CCAT originally set out to develop this project, one of the main goals was to ensure that the technologies being considered were near-term and supported commercially. To meet these goals, CCAT put together a highly qualified team in addition to the EERC that includes the U.S. Department of Energy, Arcadis/Malcom Pirnie, Avetec, Inc., and world- reknowned experts in gasification technologies.

The EERC is working with the CCAT team to develop the key data needed to prove reliability and availability by performing coal and biomass gasif-ication test runs in the EERC’s pilot-scale transport reactor integrated gasifier (TRIG) and a small pilot-scale entrained-flow gasifier. The TRIG technology is currently being installed commercially as part of the Kemper County energy facility, a 582-megawatt integrated gasification combined-cycle facility. Hundreds of entrained-flow gasifiers are operating at commercial scale around the world today, and the technology is supported by large companies such as Shell, Siemens, and General Electric, to name a few. The team believes that the focus on commercially available systems is of critical importance.

Because commercial systems are very large and would require vast amounts of biomass, the team believes that coal–biomass blends up to a maximum of 30% by weight biomass represent the highest blend ratio that would be fed to the gasifier. In addition, to ensure that the blending requirements could be met year-round, the team is developing data on various sources of biomass that include wood, corn stover, switchgrass, and other opportunity feedstocks that could be sourced around the globe.

Each of these sources of fuel has unique challenges and opportunities based on the basic properties of the biomass. The pilot-scale testing has shown promise that these fuels can be operated reliably in commercial gasifier designs if the physical and chemical properties of the material are understood prior to injecting into the gasifier.

This project and the technical and economic information generated could help open doors for real-world conversion of coal and biomass to liquid fuels. This may help improve investor confidence and bring advanced technologies one step closer to the commercial marketplace. The testing at the EERC is expected to continue through the end of 2013.

The U.S. government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation thereon. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing official policies,  endorsements, or approvals either expressed or implied, of the Defense Logistics Agency or the U.S. government.

By Joshua J. Stanislowski, Research Manager, Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) 

Trip to China Extends EERC Reach

EERC Senior Research Manager Charlie Gorecki and Research Manager Gavin Liu attended the International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC) in Beijing, China, in March 2013 to present an e-poster on “The Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership: CO2 Sequestration Demonstration Projects Adding Value to the Oil and Gas Industry.” IPTC is organized through the collaboration of four of the leading professional societies in the oil and gas industry: the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, and the Society of Petroleum Engineers. IPTC, which rotates between the Middle East and Asia, drew over 5000 participants from around the globe, with some 600 presentations from over 64 countries.

“We were able to make some good connections with people not just from China but from Thailand, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States at the conference,” said Gorecki. “IPTC is one of the most influential technical oil and gas conferences in the world, so interactions with people  there often lead to mutually beneficial collaborations down the road.”

Gorecki and Liu also delivered formal presentations to the Chinese Academy of Science while in Beijing. Gorecki presented “Overview of the Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership and CO2 Storage Research Projects.” Liu, a native of the People’s Republic of China who earned his Ph.D. and one of his master’s degrees in the United States, delivered his presentation in Chinese: “IEAGHG Investigation of Water Extraction from CO2 Storage,” based on the 2011 project funded by the International Energy Agency (IEA) GHG Programme and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The two also had less formal meetings at two other prominent universities in China while there.

Positioning for Success

In this second term of President Obama’s Administration, many different entities are trying hard to get their position on renewable or fossil fuels recognized and, at the same time, eliminate opposing positions. What might make more sense is to position for success all around. Biofuels and fossil fuels could coexist to achieve some level of success come the end of this present Presidential term if a few positions are maintained.

First off, there is the position of respect. All sides or positions could benefit if some sense of mutual respect between renewable fuel advocates and fossil fuel advocates could be attained. Arguments for and against renewable fuels or biofuels need to change toward marketing solutions. If the position is held that biofuels are not cost-competitive, do little to help the environment and global warming, and should not receive any government incentives, that is a position well enough. But some level of respect might be warranted to give the biofuels industry some time to prove out. Remember, the biofuels industry, in reality, is only about a decade old. Yes, it is true that science and engineering have been trying to make energy and fuels out of grasses, wood, and straw since the early 1980s, but only recently have small commercial-scale plants been erected. In addition, markets do exist for ethanol and biodiesel worldwide that have been established during this young decade. Some of these markets, but not all, are indeed dependent on government assistance. Some respite of time could be warranted here before an entire U.S. industry is eliminated.

Secondly, if a position is held that biofuels can replace petroleum-based fuels in the United States in the next half century or less, again, that is a position well enough. Renewable fuel advocates need to realize that the entire globe has awakened to the possibility of owning a fossil fuel automobile or power generator. For some, this simply was not on their radar a decade ago. Environmentally right or wrong, fossil fuel consumption is not on the decrease but is on the increase, and petroleum production advances are so staggering that experts really have no clue as to when world peak oil production may actually occur. Throw in astounding natural gas reserves once deemed unrecoverable and new technologies for gas-to-liquids and CNG–LNG (compressed natural gas–liquefied natural gas)-powered vehicles, and we definitely have serious challenges with wholesale conversion to biofuels. The fossil fuels position is also in need of a little respect.

And finally, if a position is held that petroleum and fossil-derived vehicular fuels will dominate for at least a century with prudent attention to biofuels industries that can rise above food-based feedstocks and supply significant but not total replacement quantities of lower-carbon footprint fuels, then there might exist an environment for success. This position is one that needs to happen in order to benefit the global society and the environment. Certain positional debates between these two industries need to take a break. For instance, both sides claim to have solved the calculation of which industry gets more subsidies or incentives to hold their position of success. It seems that this calculation is some type of Riemann hypothesis (an insolvable equation) and should probably be answered by markets instead of mathematicians or economists. Positions of respect solve the insolvable equation by allowing both positions to exist, perhaps with the help of a few incentives until markets can truly get entrenched and technologies can catch up with economics.

Here is a factual situation that shows both fossil and renewable positions hold swagger and can coexist. The United States has lowered its oil imports drastically over the last several years and will likely continue to do so for many years. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has published data showing that daily petroleum consumption in the United States will remain below 19 million barrels through the year 2040, where in 2004, consumption was 20.6 million barrels. In about 25 years, the United States could still be below its all-time oil consumption record. Those facts testify to a vibrant oil production industry which has excelled in the face of lower petroleum consumption, higher oil prices, increased fuel efficiency, and a United States and worldwide recession. However, those EIA facts are also because of a well-entrenched ethanol and biodiesel industry that has significantly impacted domestic petroleum consumption.

In the end, it can only be hoped that positions of respect will allow both sides to continue to grow toward market and environmental sensibility. At the Energy & Environmental Research Center, we will continue to forge new technologies to crack the cellulosic barrier for producing biofuels from nonfood biomass, and we will continue to develop new technologies and strategies to capture carbon dioxide, inject it into oil formations to sequester a portion of it, and drive out once unrecoverable oil resources. We will continue to be respectful to both of these sides.

By Chris J. Zygarlicke, Deputy Associate Director for Research, Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC)

Gasification is Key to EERC Alternative Fuels

The EERC is pursuing development of petroleum-alternative fuels from domestic resources as a means of ensuring long-term energy supply security for military and, eventually, commercial civilian use. These fuels must be “drop-in-compatible” and cost-competitive with their counterparts but also have a reduced carbon footprint. Producing alternative fuels uses a process called gasification to convert solid carbon-rich fuel—coal, biomass, and biomass–coal blends—to primarily CO, H2, CO2, CH4, and H2O; all of which exit the conversion system as synthesis gas (syngas). The syngas can then be converted using catalytic processes to distillate fuels like methanol, gasoline, or diesel.

The EERC has on its property six high-bay (three- to seven-story) technology demonstration facilities dedicated to providing near-commercial-scale testing for the energy and environmental industries. The facilities feature a wide variety of combustion, gasification, liquefaction, carbon capture, and emission control technologies.

The EERC is currently gasifying coal–biomass blends in two pilot-scale gasifier systems: a (~400-lb/hr fuel throughput) Transport Reactor Integrated Gasifier (the TRIG™, developed by KBR and Southern Company) and a smaller fuel throughput (~10-lb/hr) EFG. The seven-story-high TRIG can produce about 400 scfm of syngas, and the three-story-high EFG can produce about 20 scfm. Both systems can be operated in air-blown or oxygen-blown mode. These well-instrumented gasifiers are the primary tools being used to evaluate the gasification of biomass and biomass–coal blends for EERC gasification work.

“Dozens of fuels have been tested in these gasification systems over the past two decades,” said EERC Senior Research Manager Mike Swanson, who leads the TRIG testing. “For example, since its commissioning in 1990, our TRIG gasifier has proven to be an excellent system for evaluating the operational performance of all ranks of coal, coal–biomass blends, and 100% biomass. The TRIG system is seven stories high and enables the gasification reactions to be self-sustaining, but it is still small enough that several different operating conditions can be evaluated in a single day. TRIG testing has been done on an Australian brown coal, three coals from India, a Bulgarian lignite, four coals from China, and several Powder River Basin coals as well as lignites from North Dakota, Texas, and Mississippi.”

“Each of the technologies—EFG and TRIG—has different attributes and functionalities, different benefits, and different challenges,” said Josh Stanislowski, EERC Research Manager and lead for the EFG testing. “Many of the studies undertaken are to evaluate how well each of these systems works with a variety of fuels.”

Most gasification systems are designed for uniformly sized coal particles. Introducing biomass by itself as a fuel or in a blend with coal can create challenges due to the different size, density, and physical attributes of the biomass. The EFG has to be fed very fine feedstock material—almost a powder—whereas the TRIG can take coarser material. Coal is relatively easy to grind to a powder because it is hard. Biomass (such as corn stover and straw) is not easily ground to a powder. Preparing the fuel is more energy-intensive than coal, even if it is possible to do. EFGs operate at a higher temperature than does the TRIG, so EFGs are less energy-efficient. However, because EFGs operate at higher temperatures, they can destroy almost all of the tar species formed during biomass gasification. The TRIG can produce a fair amount of tars when converting biomass feedstocks. Biomass is generally high in potassium, which forms a sticky ash that can plug gasification systems. This presents more of a problem for the TRIG than the EFG because the ash must remain as a solid for proper operation. The ash must be turned into a liquid in the EFG, and potassium beneficially lowers the melting temperature of the ash.

“Many developers out there are providing commercially available full-scale EFG systems, but these systems are not necessarily guaranteed for biomass,” said Stanislowski. “They are typically focused on high-rank bituminous coal, and developers can’t guarantee how they will perform using biomass. We’ve worked with  multitudes of fuels in the EERC’s EFG, which has been operational since 2008. This system is intended to mimic the designs of several commercial systems.”

Stanislowski added that there are a few commercial EFG systems operating in the United States with bituminous coal, but none uses low-rank coal. There are hundreds operating worldwide, where the systems  burn coal and even petroleum coke or residue.

“The TRIG is a versatile system that can run bituminous coal, subbituminous coal—even petcoke and biomass, but it is really geared for low-rank coals found in the middle of the country, like Powder River Basin coal,” said Swanson. “Our work until about 2007 involved optimizing the gasifier with a wide range of different fuels. Now most work involves commercial entities that come to us and want a particular fuel tested.”

The TRIG technology is currently being installed commercially as part of the Kemper County Energy Facility, a 582-MW integrated gasification combined-cycle facility in Mississippi.

“The EERC has been able to successfully gasify coal–biomass blends. We have also taken it all the way to liquid fuels production. We’ve shown that we can gasify coal–biomass, clean up the syngas, use a catalyst to make liquid fuels, and upgrade those liquids to drop-in-compatible jet fuel,” said Stanislowski.

From Solid Feedstock to Liquid Fuel

The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) is expanding its support of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Inc. (CCAT) effort to convert solid and gaseous fuels to synthesis gas for catalytic conversion to liquid fuels for U.S. military applications. The EERC will continue demonstrating gasification-based technologies for converting feedstocks such as coal, supplemented with various types and amounts of biomass, into liquid fuels. This testing supports CCAT’s work for the U.S. government.

Driving the work is the U.S. military’s commitment to energy security through utilization of domestic resources for producing specification-compliant fuels with life cycle carbon dioxide emissions that are equal to or less than those of their petroleum-derived counterparts. Military feedstock options for liquid fuels are currently nearly 100% petroleum. The overall goal of the CCAT project is to provide additional data for the production of liquid fuels for military applications utilizing a wide variety of feedstocks.

Section 526 of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act requires that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of all transportation fuels used by the government be below the life cycle emission levels of petroleum-derived products. Analysis shows that liquid fuel production using coal–biomass blends results in a net reduction of GHG emissions compared to traditional petroleum resources if carbon capture technologies are employed. Limits in biomass supply and quantities will require any system utilizing renewable feedstocks to be fuel-flexible to account for variations in transportation costs and seasonal supply. Demonstration of the conversion of these feedstocks in gasification systems is a critical step in moving the technologies forward.

In January 2010, CCAT began investigating different gasification techniques to assist the military’s mandate on becoming more energy independent through the utilization of sustainable energy and fuels. The EERC had performed testing previously in its unique gasification systems and had shown that a highly clean gas could be produced from coal and coal–biomass blends, which is essential for the production of quality liquid fuel. A partnership was formed to test the viability of various coal and biomass blends as feedstocks for jet fuel production.

“By developing systems that can produce alternative liquid fuels and power, the U.S. military sees the potential for improved energy security, competitive fuel costs, increased efficiency, and environmental sustainability,” according to EERC Deputy Associate Director for Research Mike Holmes, who is the project manager for the EERC testing. “Cofeeding biomass with the coal and utilizing CO2 capture technologies will allow us to minimize CO2 emissions from these energy systems.

“The military has been good at developing products that private companies and consumers can benefit from,” Holmes added. “This has the possibility for development of moderate-scale systems that allow distributed production of power and fuels, utilizing coal and regional sources of biomass.”

The EERC is supporting the CCAT team by using the EERC’s transport reactor development unit and bench-scale entrained-flow gasifier (EFG) systems to evaluate the impact of fuel quality and operating conditions on synthesis gas composition, gas cleanup, system performance, overall process efficiency, and CO2 emissions.

CCAT awarded the EERC an additional $2,222,215 for an expanded scope of work through early 2014, bringing the program total to $3,128,785. The initial project, evaluating coal and coal–wood blends, was completed in September 2012. That testing used both raw and specially treated wood.

“The intent of Phase II is to extend the testing to include different amounts of biomass as well as different types of biomass: switchgrass, corn stover, and chipped railroad ties,” said Holmes. “We’re also looking at co-feeding the gasifier with natural gas and different amounts of wood as well as algae.”

“We’re evaluating feed type and conditions to determine the operational performance, and then with those results,” Holmes added, “the technical viability testing will provide data that can also be used to evaluate the economics of producing alternative liquid fuels.”