Water Briefs

Jan. 1, 2011
Oil and water don't mix, but separating oil from water created as a byproduct of offshore drilling helps both the industry and the surrounding ecosystem.

New Oil, Water Separation System Shows Improved Extraction Efficiency

Oil and water don't mix, but separating oil from water created as a byproduct of offshore drilling helps both the industry and the surrounding ecosystem. New membrane technology invented by Michigan State University engineering scientists makes this procedure more efficient and cost-effective.

The new dual-affinity membrane hydrocyclone technology uses two tubular membranes that form a type of centrifuge: a smaller inner membrane that collects oil is contained in a larger outer membrane that collects water. The de-oiled water can be returned to the ocean without further treatment. The recovered oil can be added to the well's production total.

"Our hope is that the proposed membrane-based unit can be retrofitted onto current hydrocyclone systems," said Volodymyr Tarabara, MSU associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and lead inventor of the technology. "This should be the fastest way to practice for this technology."

In U.S. operations it's estimated that for every barrel of oil pumped out of a well, about seven barrels of "produced" water is created. Injecting ocean water into the seabed to force out the oil creates a byproduct -- produced water -- which contains a certain amount of oil and must be purified before it can be returned to the ocean.

"The oil droplets in produced water ranges in size from large blobs to specks smaller than 10 microns," said Tarabara. "Current hydrocyclone technology is not effective in removing these very small droplets of oil. Our membrane technology is."

The research is a part of a strategic partnership initiative on creating advanced membrane technologies for a sustainable future funded by the MSU Foundation.

For more information, visit http://research.msu.edu/stories/new-hydrocyclone-separates-water-oil-more-efficiently.

Company Developing Online Perchlorate Sensor

The National Institutes of Health Superfund Research Program (NIH) recently awarded $845,000 to Advanced MicroLabs to develop the hardware for an online perchlorate sensor. Perchlorate's appearance in ground water sources is primarily a result of improper storage of rocket fuels and explosives.

Many remediation efforts are underway throughout the U.S. to restore ground water for use as drinking water but these efforts lack a means of monitoring perchlorate in real time resulting in over-engineered facilities to safe guard against plant failure. An online sensor would make these efforts safer and more cost-effective.

Jess Brown, Ph.D., P.E., a process design engineer with Carollo Engineers, comments: "No other analytical technologies exist that meet our on-site perchlorate monitoring needs, and therefore we are quite enthusiastic about the prospects of the Advanced MicroLabs device."

"This award is the cornerstone of our commercial thrust, providing product development resources and validating our scientific and commercial strategies," said Charles S. Henry, CEO. The Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase II award will allow Advanced MicroLabs to develop prototype commercial units. Detection limits below 1 part per billion (ppb) have already been demonstrated, well below existing and pending state regulations which range between a maximum of 4-15 ppb.

Advanced MicroLabs uses a microchip Capillary Electrophoresis with patent pending electrochemical detection technology which originated at Colorado State University plus patent pending sample delivery technology for real time analysis.

"Our sensitivity typically matches, if not out performs, Ion Chromatography, and our technique is much faster, easier, and less expensive," Henry said. "Plus, we can separate and detect almost any ion in water, allowing us to address many additional on line measurement needs. Our next set of initiatives is to improve the water re-use and overall economics in power generating plants."

Treatment Process Removed Dye, Contaminants from Wastewater

Aqua-Chem and Enviro-Solutions have announced that initial results from a pilot project at a high-volume U.S. carpet manufacturer demonstrated that it is both practical and economically feasible to simultaneously remove dye and other contaminants from wastewater used in large-scale carpet manufacturing.

The one-part treatment process has attained an 80% recovery rate from wastewater that is typically sent to sewers after the manufacturing process, while also extracting valuable heat from the water for reuse in production at the facility.

David Gensterblum, President & CEO of Aqua-Chem, said, "We believe this is the first time that dye separation and water purification have been successful as a one-part process for a high-volume manufacturing facility. While the process employed is a major step forward in water conservation for the carpet industry, it also has wide applications for manufacturers in other water-intensive industries. With the ability to recycle at least 80% of their wastewater, manufacturers will conserve millions of gallons of water per year, taking green manufacturing to a whole new level."

Aqua-Chem and Enviro-Solutions said that they are preparing to take the process to market and that their production site is ready.

Water District Tests Biodenitrification System

Western Municipal Water District has received $528,000 in federal funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to proceed with a new biodenitrification system design at its Arlington Desalter.

"Nitrate is one of the most common groundwater contaminants in the nation, and perchlorate impacts the drinking water supplies of 41 million consumers in 22 states," said Brenda Dennstedt, president of Western's Board of Directors. "Western is pleased to spearhead a solution that improves water quality and supply reliability for western Riverside County while also delivering potential water quality solutions for communities all across the U.S."

Western has already completed a pilot study and preliminary design on the project. Next steps will be to complete final design and prepare construction plans to build new treatment facilities at the desalter.

"Completing the design is a critical step that will maintain momentum to attract state and federal support to complete construction of the project," said John V. Rossi, general manager for Western.

Western successfully conducted a pilot program using biological technology to completely remove several harmful chemicals from drinking water. WMWD, in cooperation with the California Department of Public Health and Carollo Engineers, conducted six months of tests with the system at Western's Arlington Desalter facility in Riverside.

The non-proprietary technology, known as biodenitrification, was developed in Europe and has been widely used there for three decades to purify drinking water. Biodenitrification systems use microorganisms that are harmless to humans to remove nitrates from water. The organisms metabolize chemicals like nitrate and perchlorate as a food source, thereby converting them to harmless by-products like nitrogen gas, chloride, and water. Most other nitrate removal technologies simply separate nitrate and perchlorate into a concentrated waste stream that ultimately gets discharged back into the environment.

During a rigorous testing regimen coordinated with the California Department of Public Health, the biodenitrification system was put through a variety of scenarios to ensure its reliability, safety and stability. In all cases, the system was able to ensure destruction of nitrate and perchlorate found in the groundwater.

Water Purification System Manufacturer Closes on $1 Million in Venture Financing

AquaMost, developer of an innovative water purification system with a wide range of applications, has secured a total of $1 million from investors including the Golden Angels Network of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Investment Partners of Madison.

Todd Asmuth, AquaMost president and CEO, said the successful round of fundraising will allow the company to hire three to five engineers and lab associates for commercial development of the system. The company has orders and a distribution plan in place and is working to turn its prototype devices into field-ready units.

Initial sales are expected within six months.

"Despite the challenging economic times, innovation is alive and well in Wisconsin and we are fortunate to have well-managed, Wisconsin-based venture capital sources willing to invest in job growth," said Asmuth, whose past business experience includes managing four different startups. "In the U.S. and abroad, fresh water supplies are increasingly compromised by a variety of environmental and industrial contaminants and our low-cost, proprietary technology provides an effective and scalable solution."

The AquaMost purification system combines a number of patented and patent-pending inventions originating from the labs of University of Wisconsin -- Madison scientists. The core technology is called photoelectrocatalytic oxidation (PECO), which uses ultraviolet light and a light-activated catalyst to eliminate a wide variety of chemical pollutants in water, including benzene, MTBE, pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors and pesticides, as well as harmful waterborne pathogens such as bacteria, fungi and viruses.

The technology was originally developed by UW researchers as a solution to problems in the aquaculture industry. As the research progressed, it became clear that the PECO technology had great potential for many uses, including hazardous waste cleanup and industrial remediation.

For more information, visit www.aquamostlabs.com.

Investors Challenge Companies On Hydraulic Fracturing Practices

A group of U.S. investors have filed shareholder resolutions with nine oil and gas companies, pressing them to disclose their plans for managing water pollution, litigation and regulatory risks that are increasingly associated with natural gas hydraulic fracturing operations (also known as "fracking") in the United States.

Resolutions were filed with many of the natural gas industry's significant players, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Ultra Petroleum, El Paso, Cabot Oil & Gas, Southwestern Energy, Energen Anadarko and Carrizo Oil & Gas.

"Oil and gas firms are being too vague about how they will manage the environmental challenges resulting from fracking," said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose office filed a resolution with Cabot Oil & Gas asking for a specific plan to reduce or eliminate the hazards. "The risks associated with unconventional shale gas extraction have the potential to negatively impact shareholder value. I urge companies working in this field to share their risk mitigation and management strategies with investors and the public."

The shareholder proposals ask companies to disclose their policies and strategies for reducing environmental and financial risks from chemicals use, water impacts and a host of other issues. The resolutions also request adoption of best management practices, such as:

  • recycling and reusing waste waters;
  • reducing the volumes and toxicity of chemicals;
  • disclosing the chemicals used in fracturing operations; and
  • assuring the integrity of well cementing through pressure testing and other methods.

The Energy Department recently more than doubled estimates of recoverable shale reserves to 827 trillion cubic feet, the energy equivalent of 140 billion barrels of oil. The American Petroleum Institute estimates that 60 to 80 percent of natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will require hydraulic fracturing.

Environmental risks stem largely from poor well-construction practices, which can lead to drinking water contamination, well blowouts and gas leaks, and from inadequate wastewater recycling and management practices. Concerns about water contamination incidents are growing as operations expand, creating reputational and litigation liabilities for companies.

Lawsuits have been filed against four companies over alleged water contamination in Pennsylvania. New York State adopted a temporary moratorium on new permits for fracking. Philadelphia's city council has urged a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin until environmental studies have been completed, and Pittsburgh, which sits atop gas deposits, has banned fracking within city limits.

Investors filing the resolutions include the New York State Comptroller (Cabot Oil & Gas, Carrizo Oil & Gas), Domini Social Investments (Southwestern Energy), As You Sow (ExxonMobil and Ultra Petroleum), Trillium Asset Management (Anadarko), Miller/Howard Investments (El Paso and Energen), and The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia (Chevron).

ABB Acquires Baldor Electric

ABB, a power and automation technology group, has acquired Baldor Electric Co., a North American supplier of industrial motors, in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $4.2 billion, including $1.1 billion of net debt. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2011.

The transaction closes a gap in ABB's automation portfolio in North America by adding Baldor's NEMA motors product line and positions the company as a market leader for industrial motors, including high-efficiency motors. Baldor also adds a growing and profitable mechanical power transmission business to ABB's portfolio.

The transaction will substantially improve ABB's access to the industrial customer base in North America, opening opportunities for ABB's wider portfolio including energy efficient drives and complementary motors. This move comes at a time when regulatory changes in the US and other parts of the world will accelerate demand for energy efficient industrial motion products. The acquisition will strengthen ABB's position as a leading supplier of industrial motion solutions, and will also enable ABB to tap the huge potential in North America for rail and wind investments, both of which are expected to grow rapidly in coming years.

Company Wins Treatment Contracts

H2O Innovation has recently been awarded new contracts totaling $2.4 million (Canadian). The company will design, fabricate, and deliver an industrial process water production system for a U.S. energy and power generation company as well as a drinking water production system for an Ontario mining customer.

The Canadian mining industry is currently experiencing sustained growth -- fueled by the rising price of most metals and minerals. Active in the mining industry in Canada and abroad for more than 10 years, H2O Innovation is an experienced designer and manufacturer of high performance water treatment systems for mining operations and workers camps, development projects and exploration properties.

The company will also design, build, and deliver a 150,000 gpd Bio-Brane wastewater treatment system to a First Nation community in Manitoba, Canada. The company's Bio-Brane technology is a high-efficiency IFAS MBR (integrated fixed-film activated sludge and membrane bioreactor) system used for municipal and industrial wastewater treatment and water reuse applications.

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