Nanofiltration technology has solved the wastewater challenge for the oil and gas industry and presents a new lithium opportunity and market potential.
As oilfields age, the ratio of wastewater (brine) rises exponentially. It’s estimated that for every unit of oil and gas produced, four to five units of brine are pumped, representing roughly 80 to 100 million barrels of brine in North America every day.
This wastewater brine is also known to contain valuable minerals such as lithium, which is in high demand for use in the electric vehicle and smartphone industries.
As a result, a new element called “petrolithium” has emerged. Petrolithium has a concentration of lithium carbonate that’s 95 percent or greater. The technology at the forefront of this industry-changing process is Nanoflotation technology, which produces petrolithium by efficiently treating water in an environmentally friendly and low-cost manner.
“Treatment of wastewater has always been a challenge and significant cost to oil and gas producers,” says Dr. Preston McEachern, CEO and founder of PurLucid Treatment Solutions, a leading company in the development of Nanoflotation technology. “This treatment of wastewater makes the implementation of petrolithium recovery an essential process.”
Wastewater issues in the shale oil sands of North America
In the US, 97 billion gallons of water are used annually for shale oil production. The US Bureau of Land Management estimates that mining and distilling shale oil requires an estimated 2.1 to 5.2 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced. At those levels, we could see a reduction in the annual flow of Colorado’s White River by as much as 8.2 percent.
Hydraulic fracturing is one of the advanced drilling methods used to produce shale oil. Water, minerals and chemicals are injected underground at high pressure to fracture rock formations and allow oil and gas to flow to the top.
Since US President Donald Trump signed his America First Energy Plan in May 2017, shale oil production has intensified. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that US shale oil output will reach an average of 10 million barrels a day in 2018, compared with 9.2 million barrels a day in 2017. That forecast marks the highest annual average production of shale oil ever on record.
The EIA also forecasts that the US will soon overtake Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer, a feat unseen for decades. And the more oil that’s produced, the more water that flows.
“Next to profitability and safety, water may well be the next most important topic for an oil company,” Laura Capper, CEO at EnergyMakers Advisory Group in Houston, told Bloomberg. “It has risen to the forefront over the last five years unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
Water handling is needed by oilfield management firms to transport excess water to offsite locations. The entire process makes for high water management costs and directly impacts oil and gas producers’ bottom lines. According to research firm Barclays, water use per well increased by 434 percent in the Permian Basin in Texas between 2013 and 2016.
Meanwhile, the Williston Basin in Montana and the Eagle Ford Basin in Texas have also reported significant increases in water use, at 103 percent and 64 percent, respectively. These increases show a need for disruptive technology that makes use of the water produced from drilling; Nanoflotation technology meets the demand.
How Nanoflotation technology works
Specifically designed for oilfield environments, Nanoflotation technology separates impurities from oil and gas wastewater and produces clean water as a final product. This allows for the recycling or controlled release of oilfield wastewater and reduces or eliminates downhole and associated transportation costs.
In studies, Nanoflotation has demonstrated performance superiority over other processes that are typically used to remove contaminants in oil. The technology also allows high-temperature water treatment at 10 to 30 times the efficiency of existing ultrafiltration systems, and offers numerous environmental benefits like contaminant removal, mineral recovery, reduced energy demand, smaller footprints and lower capital costs.
The 2017 finalist for the Most Disruptive Technology in the World award by Katerva, Nanoflotation is integral to processing petrolithium from wastewater.
How petrolithium is extracted
As petroleum is drilled out of a well, it’s replaced by a saltwater brine that well operators have no use for, since it contains less than 1 percent petroleum. The wastewater is sent back down the well, or pumped into storage tanks, at added cost.
Petrolithium is produced by separating the oil from the lithium-bearing brine, yielding a precipitate with a concentration of lithium carbonate that’s 95 percent or greater. The patent-pending process harvests lithium and other metals from brine that would otherwise be disposed of.
Why is petrolithium important?
As the global electric vehicle market continues its phenomenal growth, experts predict that the lithium used to make electric vehicle batteries and smartphones could soon be in short supply. Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) projects that demand for lithium will triple to 570,000 tonnes by 2025. The importance of extracting lithium, and alternative elements, are as important as ever.
The two methods for extracting lithium are solar evaporation and hard-rock mining, both considered to be relatively ineffective approaches. In response, MGX Minerals (CSE:XMG) has recognized petrolithium as a low-cost means to solve the wastewater problem, since petrolithium from brine contains a high concentration of lithium carbonate and other metals.
“We believe in investing in technology and innovative processes that disrupt how the energy industry thinks and operates,” says MGX Minerals President and CEO Jared Lazerson. MGX Minerals has partnered with PurLucid to exclusively license and patent Nanoflotation technology for petrolithium extraction. The company has seen early success with its process and has acquired more than 2 million acres of lithium brine properties in North America.
The wastewater treatment market is expected to reach $674 billion by 2025, according to a report by Hexa research firm, which includes water treatment systems that are installed at the point of use or the point of entry. The report also finds that the equipment and services markets will likely grow in response and gain momentum as they utilize environment-friendly and economically feasible instruments and technologies, like Nanoflotation technology for the extraction of petrolithium.
Oil and gas has long been one of the most profitable global industries, but public sentiment has shifted policy towards renewable energy and environmentally friendly processes. From 2000 to 2010, US-based oil and gas companies invested roughly $9 billion in renewable technologies. Nanoflotation technology is among the most exciting new technologies for oil and gas, since it provides a cost-effective and environmentally friendly means to treat water and extract valuable materials like petrolithium.