MOFs enter the oil and gas fields

Ray Ozdemir's picture
Ray Ozdemir, COO, framergy Inc
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In 2018, framergy piloted its large-scale Light Hydrocarbon Management System (LHMS) unit, loaded with metal-organic frameworks. These crystals, often called MOFs, have the highest surface area of any material known to man. One gram of MOF, about the size of a penny, has the same surface area as a football field. This means that molecules which are both valuable energy and destructive pollutants can be stored, separated and used to maximum benefit. The pilot proved that a low pressure-swing mode MOF tank could store many times over what compressed natural gas could in field conditions.

Just over twenty years ago, scientists in Japan and the US made a significant material discovery leading to the invention of MOFs. While promising for new applications in clean air and energy, for years these materials languished at universities and boastful startups due to stability and costs issues. framergy MOFs were developed through aggressive Department of Energy ARPA-E funding and framergy is being supported to meet societal milestones by the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The LHMS pilot was demonstrated at several fracking and mid-stream sites throughout Texas and proved that an incredible amount of polluting associated gas could be captured with low pressure and separated for energy usage.

In practice, oil & gas operators, and the companies which serve them have to deal with wells which include many hydrocarbon components, with lighter than oil ones being difficult to collect when in gas form. These gas hydrocarbons are commonly referred to as associated gas and include methane, the main component of pipeline grade natural gas. For instance, in the Bakken, associated gas produced is made up of 55 per cent methane, 22 per cent ethane and 13 per cent propane. When collection mechanisms such as pipeline or CNG are not economically feasible, this gas will be released into the atmosphere.

Using data provided by industry, in 2015, framergy created some lab-scale design options to evaluate the feasibility of capturing and storing associated gas using MOFs. Compared to storage using only compression, tests conducted with Bakken associated gas revealed that MOFs could not only capture associated gas but store much more at the same test pressures. As a second step, the company stressed it with more variables such as long-term hydrogen sulfide and water build up, at larger and larger scales.

After successfully demonstrating this technology in the field, company engineers began working with a customised rack multi-gas testing unit constructed to test NGL separations, based on their changed vapour-liquid equilibrium when exposed to MOFs. Without the ideal gas law to follow, the research and development team is following Benedict-Webb-Rubin-Starling (BWRS) equation of state and incorporating the effect of the MOF in increased gas storage capacities.

This summer, framergy will test its 2.0 LHMS unit in multiple US fields, both upstream and midstream. Initially, this project envisioned capturing vented and flared gas, to solve a major environmental problem. Once captured and stored with a low energy penalty, the use of this methane gas for power generation can reduce the diesel consumption of upstream operators, improving their bottom as operating expenses fall.

But the major breakthrough in discovering that MOFs could be used control light hydrocarbons adds significantly more economic value to the LHMS.  framergy plans on manufacturing the product for sales in 2020 and sees operations beginning in Texas, with rollout into Colorado and North Dakota to follow.

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Image courtesy of framergy