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Appalachian Wastewater Research Gets Funding Boost

A researcher at Ohio University has received another $2.9 million to advance a technology that could keep more produced and flowback water at the drilling site and save operators money by sparing the expenses of transporting the fluids to underground injection wells.

Jason Trembly, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was awarded the funds by the state's technology-based economic development organization, Ohio Third Frontier, the energy technology firm Babcock & Wilcox and RF Advanced Technologies Group. Ohio University, a small school in the southeastern part of the state near the epicenter of the Utica Shale boom, also contributed funds. The project, which includes industry collaborator Hess Corp., has received more than $6 million in other federal and state grants (see Shale DailyOct. 10, 2014).

The latest round of funding would help Trembly test the hydraulic fracturing wastewater treatment method on a commercial scale. His team developed a laboratory prototype that is said to be capable of treating a barrel per day of flowback water. The goal is to deploy the technology onsite, where wastewater can be treated to help reduce the costs and risks associated with common transportation and disposal methods.

"We want to take that unit out into the field, operate it, show that it works and, pending successful results, then be able to commercialize the technology," Trembly stated in a post on the university's website. The nearly $3 million in grants would allow researchers at the university to develop a larger commercial-scale unit. The technology is similar to that deployed at power plants.

Ultraviolet and water softening technologies that are used commonly in municipal wastewater treatment remediate bacteria in the water. A pump treats wastewater in a reactor powered by natural gas from a well. This part of the process heats the water to a liquid and gaseous state, helping contaminants either precipitate out as solids or gasify into hydrogen, leaving clean water.

In Ohio, state records show that more than 200 disposal wells are active. Those wells serve producers in the state and accept millions of barrels of produced water from nearby Pennsylvania as well, where geologic characteristics are not as conducive to underground disposal (see Shale DailySept. 19, 2014).

"The real problem is shipping that waste to an injection well," Trembly said. "Having to travel long distances, you're expending a lot of energy and fuel costs to dispose of that water, so it's really expensive."

The treatment also produces byproducts for other economical uses that have stoked the interest of Third Frontier and prompted its continued funds. The solids, such as salt, can be used for road deicing and the hydrogen byproduct can stay on site and be returned to the process to heat the reactor. 

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