Research Facilities & Expertise
Sustainability and harsh environment processing are the cornerstones of our research strategy. We have already established a strong foundation in green production and processing of natural resources with a specific focus on offshore petroleum, mining, and forestry/fish waste. Our facilities and expertise are focused on the following specialized areas.
- Biomass and Waste Sourced Products
- Safety and Risk Engineering
- Reservoir Engineering
- Process System Design in Harsh Environments
- Mineral Processing
Traditionally the feedstock for fuels and industrial/commercial chemicals has been petroleum based. As such, the processes used to convert the feedstock to products have also been geared to petroleum feeds. However, dwindling petroleum reserves combined with climate change implications associated with petroleum use require research into alternative feedstocks that can be sustainably produced. Alternative feedstocks include biomass (e.g. forestry residues, fish plant waste, and municipal waste) and waste streams from industry (e.g. waste oils and waste combustion solids). Recognizing that petroleum will continue to be an integral part our economy and that our infrastructure is designed for petroleum based systems, these alternative feedstocks and associated processing systems must compatible with existing infrastructure and conversion systems. These issues are the key research opportunity in this area; identification and development of alternative feedstocks, and development of processing systems that consider our existing systems and infrastructure. We are already addressing these challenges in existing research in conversion of forestry residues to biofuels/bioproducts, extraction and upgrading of fish oil from waste, and development of adsorbents from municipal/fish/forestry waste. We are collaborating with chemistry and biology in these areas. Further areas of research include; development of systems to produce green industrial chemicals (sourced from biomass and waste materials) with a special focus on offshore oil and gas (e.g. hydrate inhibitors, drilling fluid constituents etc...), bio/waste based adsorbents and absorbents for treatment of mining and oil and gas waste streams, and biofuel from wastes.
2. Safety and Risk Engineering
Safety underpins all processing systems, from offshore oil and gas to mining and minerals processing. Further, as natural resource extraction and processing moves to more remote and harsh environments, addressing safety issues becomes more challenging and requires innovative and creative approaches. The new approaches require holistic consideration of safety by including: accident modeling, asset integrity, human factors, process safety, and occupational safety through entire life cycle of the development. Risk is used as parameter to integrate different aspects of safety in to engineering design and operation decision-making. Dynamic risk management is new paradigm with respect to enhancing design and operation safety in processing facilities. Quantification of precise risk and its management through preventive, control and mitigative strategies is an ongoing challenge and this will become even more important as developments move into harsher environments. Our safety and risk engineering research continue to provide engineering solutions to the challenges faced by industry in achieving safe and sustainable development of natural resources.
3. Reservoir Engineering
We will continue to use petroleum hydrocarbons for the foreseeable future and prices will continue to fluctuate based on supply and demand. The demand is driving engineers to produce from fields that are smaller, complex, remote and unconventional. The challenge is to recover more oil form our existing reservoirs. Maximising recovery efficiency is sustainable oil production. Accurate characterisation, modelling, and simulation will determine if and how to exploit the reservoir for optimal recovery potential. Production strategies including enhanced and improved oil recovery are governed by the location and depth of the field, the fluid and rock properties, the interaction of the fluids and rock, and, by extension, the overall economics of the project. Every field is unique. We in the “Enhanced and Improved Oil Recovery (EOR) Group” whose focus is to fundamentally examine the physical recovery and mathematical description of oil production. The Hibernia EOR Lab is the centrepiece for experimental investigating oil recovery at the core scale. New methods to better describe and more accurately model the multi-phase fluid flow in porous media are required to capture the complex fluid dynamics and phase behaviour. Our upstream reservoir engineering research focuses on mathematical and experimental techniques of oil recovery, phase behaviour, multiphase fluid flow in porous media, mass transfer, petroleum geology, geochemistry, surface chemistry, adsorption/desorption kinetics, and advanced imaging techniques.
4. Process System Design in Harsh Environments
The exploration and processing of natural resources are moving locations where remoteness, harsh climate, strict environmental regulations and limited infrastructure demand better control and monitoring, in some cases it limits the use of traditional processing equipment. This presents opportunities to develop innovative processing systems, process control strategies, and simulation/predictive models. Process unit operations capable of operating in harsh climates will require new approaches to materials used, type of unit operation (thermal, physical, chemical and/or biological approaches), waste mitigation, and energy intensity. This is particularly true in offshore oil and gas where subsea processing is becoming the norm. This will require not only new processing systems that account for environment and phase behaviour of fluids at these conditions but also development of innovative process control, monitoring and automation methodologies to accommodate the unmanned processes. An integrated systems approach will be crucial to overcome these challenges. The mineral processing industry faces the same challenges, as many operations are located in northern remote regions. Development of green and safe processes remains a core theme of our research. Consequently research activities on process systems engineering, process modeling and control are demanded as industrial activities in harsh environments continue to expand.
5. Mineral Processing
The growing demand for metals in the developing world is driving exploration and processing of minerals. However, as with petroleum, conventional sources of metals are decreasing, pushing exploration to harsh and remote environments. In addition, there is continued pressure on the minerals processing industry to operate sustainably from mining the ore to extracting valuable metals. Research is required in low energy intensive, low waste generation, and efficient mining and metals processing. Alternative mining processing using less toxic extraction chemicals, using sustainably sourced chemicals, innovative approaches to product quality and waste management through better process control and modelling, and better environmental protection through the development of treatment systems and risk management methodologies. We have existing research strengths in mining safety, mining of sulphide ores, hydrometallurgy, and process control in metals processing. There are significant research gaps in process optimization around the relatively new hydrometallurgical process, mining of iron ore, characterization and mitigation of mining/metals processing waste, and crossover with reservoir characterization methods and ores.