Algae Technology May Clean Up Dirty Water

Joanna Schroeder

OriginOil has announced that a breakthrough chemical-free process developed for algae harvesting may also aid in the clean up of dirty water that is a byproduct of oil well water flooding and hydraulic fracturing. According to the company, using a lab prototype of the technology, its researchers have successfully clarified samples of flowback water from a Texas oil well carrying frac flowback. In essence, the technology separates the organics from the water, which then float to the surface and from there can be easily removed.

Hydro fracturing is becoming more popular with petroleum companies and in states like North Dakota operations using this technology are gearing up. Large amounts of water are used to release the oil and gas, lodged deep in rock formations, oil that until this technology was developed, couldn’t be harvested. The market grew 63 percent, from $19 billion in 2010 to $31 billion in 2011 and is expected to rise another 19 percent in 2012 according to Platts.

“Our research team has learned that extracting petroleum and contaminants from water is very much like extracting algae,” said Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO. “They are both very hard to remove without using chemicals and heavy machinery. Our innovative chemical-free, high flow and low-energy process holds promise for the billions of gallons of water used daily in the oil and gas industry worldwide.”

Oil production uses a lot of water and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that for every barrel of oil produced globally, an average of three barrels of contaminated water is produced. In worse case scenarios, the water to oil ration can be as alarming as 50 to 1. As a result, the market for cleaning the water is growing, and Greentech Media reports it costs between $3 to $12 to dispose of each barrel of water. Therefore, the market for water cleaning technologies could be between $300 billion to $1 trillion per year.

Eckelberry added, “It seems that in addition to helping create the renewable energy market of the future, we may add value to a massive existing energy market. We will continue to investigate and report on this promising new application of our technology.”

algae, biofuels, Oil, water