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Oil, Gas, and Mining Technology

Introduction

Oil, gas, and minerals are essential resources for the energy industry and are vital factors for improving the economy in many countries. It is therefore important to develop new technologies for this sector.

Introduction

Oil, gas, and mining technologies play significant roles in providing sufficient amounts of energy required worldwide. Thus, exploration and production technologies have developed enormously in terms of innovation and manufacturing.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the main oil producer in the world, and contains massive amounts of mineral deposits. The Kingdom relies heavily on oil and gas to produce electricity and for water desalination. Therefore the development of innovative technologies to enhance these processes are of high importance and high value to the Kingdom.

Scientific research in the Kingdom is focusing on certain key sectors and development fields. The National Center for Oil and Gas Technology is carrying out projects focusing on the following: improving oil and gas production; enhancing Earth imaging and exploration: subsurface geophysical modelling, the development of drilling methods, and oil, gas, and mineral explorations.

The National Center for Oil and Gas Technology seeks to reinforce scientific research efforts in the fields of oil, gas, mining explorations, and production, in the Kingdom, and to play a significant role to localize and transfer these technologies in order to ensure sustainable production patterns by making these technologies economically feasible. The center’s interests are combined into five research orientations that can be summarized as:

  • Oil and gas explorations and production.
  • Subsurface geophysical modeling and inversion.
  • Enhanced oil recovery.
  • Reservoir simulation and characterization.
  • Minerals exploration technology.

Projects

This project is in the pilot stage of a multi-year earth observation research and development initiative that aims to provide clear geological and hydrological information from a vast area of the Kingdom. The project includes key contributions of all studies relating to infrastructure management, groundwater resources, minerals and geothermal energy, and oil and gas exploration. The complete project involve the acquisition, processing, and interpretation of airborne electromagnetic, gravity, and magnetic data over 7,700 km2 in the study area south of Al Madinah. A finalized Glass Earth Model has been built, as we have identified the potential geothermal and mining targets that exist in the area, which do not have any surface expression and can only be detectable with the modern high-resolution geophysical methods provided by this project. These targets may be associated with gold, zinc, and copper, which can be found in the Precambrian rocks of the Arabian shield in the western part of the Kingdom. To explore these targets in more details, we have recommended a follow-up by applying several geophysical ground measurements.

The rapid advancement of ground radar penetration systems and the technology associated with the design of the radar components is a research topic that targets many applications, including studies of crustal deformation and natural resource research. Developments in this field focus on the creation of a system capable of generating low-frequency electromagnetic waves, that ensure the production of high-quality signals that penetrate deeper into earth. The project aims to design a ground-penetrating radar system that combines the following features: low-frequency generation, a single antenna, and multiple sensors to record data at different distances. These features will lead to better Earth coverage to explain the rock properties of the sub-surface. The radar data will provide a valuable contribution to oil and gas exploration by improving the best estimations of weathering layer changes for seismic static correction.

This project aims to develop a new technology for monitoring oil and gas reservoirs, as well as water aquifers in Saudi Arabia. The project also aims to develop this technology to monitor carbon sequestration during enhanced oil recovery. Based on its location near Riyadh, its geological features, and water depth, the Alawaseea water pumping area was selected for the study. In this project, completed this year, a specially designed seismic source was developed to monitor the water aquifer and the effects of water pumping on the frequency and amplitude of seismic waves. Continuous seismic data generated by the developed seismic source were collected. High-resolution seismic surveys were conducted on the study area for comparison. Based on the data analysis, time-lapse models were obtained during water pumping periods. The results show that the seismic waves generated by the continuous seismic source were affected by the water pumping process. The results were presented and published in related conferences and journals. This project was achieved in cooperation with Japan Cooperation Center, Petroleum.

Seismic methods have the potential to excel in delineating the sub-surface near deep geological layers with a resolution not offered by any other technique. This resolution has led seismic techniques to be employed first in geophysics applications in most oil, gas, and perhaps recently in mining explorations. Geophone coupling is still a big issue in seismic acquisition, requiring some developments in sensor techniques and in communicating the data over large areas, especially in sand regions. The team of this project aims to enhance geophones for sand surfaces with high coupling characteristics and a high level of surface/ground/terrain coupling, allowing for easy mobility and operation compared to conventional acquisitions. The design will focus on providing long spear-type mounts to allow for the better coupling and recording of low-frequency signals and provide a sensor that is commercially feasible. In addition, this design of a sand geophone can solve the problem of complex environments, as it is the case in the Kingdom, with its desert and large sand dunes.

This project aims to develop a geophysical data logging system that will help in well drilling and groundwater, mineral, oil, and gas exploration. A computer system with a number of applications will help to collect data from different well environments with a design ensuring the quality of the acquired data. The project also aims to create a seismic energy source to be used for oil, gas, and mineral production wells and it will operate at frequencies ranging from 30 Hz to 30 KHz to overcome some wavefield problems at this bandwidth. For example, the complex environment of production wells is the main challenge in producing high-quality signals. This environment includes stainless-steel casing and wellbore fluids, borehole annulus, and other materials induced during drilling, such as the drilling mud and gravel. The hydraulic parameters and mineral characteristics of the formation are two of the most important outcomes that can be achieved by the project, and its results may serve many sectors, including oil, gas, mining, groundwater, and geotechnical companies.

This research project is concerned with the development of a full waveform inversion approach focused on the near surface. Despite the many challenges presented by waveform inversion, its ability to resolve the near surface problems considering the available recording spread length, is outstanding. The resulting velocity model has high-resolution information capable of mapping caves and other features of the Earth’s sub-surface. However, such an implementation requires some modifications to the current operation to include phase unwrapping, scattering angle filtering, and Laplace damping. The main objective of this project is to utilize wave-modeling technology to explore minerals and unconventional oil and gas with consideration of the role of other applications such as in the detection of groundwater sources, calculating the time of arrival of seismic waves in rough areas (sands), and to obtain sharp images of the sub-surface.

Hydraulic fracturing in unconventional formations involves the use of highly pressurized water to create a complex network of fractures that allow the flow of reservoir fluids from unconventional reservoirs to the wellbore. Saudi Arabia is an arid country with the potential for an acute water shortage. It is mostly desert with no permanent rivers and little rainfall. Water is scarce and extremely valuable, and with the country’s rapid growth, the demand for water has grown, despite a scarce and dwindling water supply. Moreover, water can cause significant formation damage, which can present as clay swelling and relative permeability effects stemming from capillary fluid retention. The concept of waterless thermal fracturing rests on the idea that a very cold liquid (i.e., liquid nitrogen) or a very high temperature (i.e., plasma) can induce a fracture when brought into contact with a rock formation. This study will develop a system to control the processes of injecting those waterless materials into the production wells to obtain better results.

Excess water production and low oil production rates are two major issues that lead to early well abandonment and unrecoverable hydrocarbons in a mature well. Oil recovery is the product of displacement efficiency (ED) and sweep efficiency (ES). Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods are focused on increasing either ED by reducing residual oil saturation or ES by correcting reservoir heterogeneity. Gel treatment and low salinity water flooding (LSWF) are two principle EOR methods. Each has limitations that can largely be avoided by combining the two methods. The objective of injecting nanoparticle gel is to reduce the volume of water produced with the oil, but it can also result in improved ES. This project proposes the development of a cost-effective novel EOR technology for extremely heterogeneous reservoirs by coupling the two technologies into one process. The ultimate objective of this project is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the combined technology and to identify where and how the technology can be applied most acceptably through laboratory experiments and field demonstration tests.

The aim of the project is to develop a new technique for the extraction of olefins, aromatics and sulfur compounds from gasoline produced by the catalytic cracking processes in the liquid phase. It also aims to develop an effective and selective material for extraction and to find out the optimum conditions for the extraction process.

In the first phase of this joint project between KACST and the University of Oxford, a new laboratory extraction technique has been developed to extract selectively olefins, aromatics and sulfur compounds from catalytic cracking of gasoline.

In the second phase of this project, a bench top pilot will be prepared for the extraction process, and catalysts will be prepared and their physical and chemical properties will be studied along with their activity and selectivity to benefit from the olefins and aromatic compounds extracted by their interaction with methanol and their conversion into fuel in the range of gasoline. The project will also look at the optimum conditions and selective material for extraction.

The project aims to develop catalytic processes for the direct selective oxidation of light-hydrocarbons to oxygenates. The activation/oxidation of small alkane molecules originating from natural gas or renewable resources continues to be interesting and important for both academic research and industrial production, since the direct utilization of these abundant and cost-effective hydrocarbons offers suitable and sustainable pathways to higher value chemicals and fuels. Novel catalysts will be developed based on catalytic particles on nanostructured supports. The preparation of the nanostructured supports and the synthesis of the catalysts will be studied and the catalysts characterized in details by a range of physico-chemical techniques, to achieve a fundamental understanding of the parameters controlling the generation of the active materials. The catalysts will be evaluated systematically for selective oxidation of methane and ethane over a wide range of reaction conditions using various oxidants in both continuous and transient reactor systems. The effect of reaction conditions will be investigated extensively to establish the optimum parameters for the highest yield and the highest selectivity towards oxygenates production.

Heavy oil or vacuum residue is complex, black in color, highly dense, and extremely viscous in nature. These materials contain high amounts of impurities such as heteroatoms and large organic compounds like saturates, aromatics, resins, and asphaltenes. Therefore, it is difficult to exploit in conventional oil refineries. This type of oil is found in large quantities in Saudi Arabia and all over the world. Converting this type of oil into high value chemical materials is a strategic goal for the Kingdom and the world.

This project aims to develop an innovative technology for the conversion of heavy oil and refining residues in one-step reaction into light olefins (ethylene, propylene and butelene) using catalytic cracking process. The research team in KACST is working to develop highly selective catalysts and to optimize the reaction conditions for converting heavy oil and refining residues into the desired compounds.

The low price of heavy oil and Vacuum residue and the high economic value of the target products make this project a very competitive compared to the similar technologies in petrochemical industries.

The aim of this research project is to develop new petrochemical technology based on microwave-dielectric heating to convert the crude oil and naphtha to high-value chemicals, which will give the crude oil a competitive advantage compared to the other chemical feeds in petrochemical industries.  

This project was launched in 1438H by KACST-Oxford Petrochemical Research Centre (KOPRC), which combines the unique capabilities and expertise of KACST and the Chemistry Department at the University of Oxford. The main scope of this joint project is to design and develop nano-solid based catalysts, as well as the development of a new or unconventional process assisted by microwave-dielectric heating for the selective cracking and dehydrogenation of crude oil into valuable light olefins, which can be used as basic and intermediate building blocks for the petrochemicals industries.

The outputs of this project can be utilized by many national stakeholders such as Saudi Aramco and SABIC, which will give a positive economic impact. Moreover, many job opportunities would be created for young Saudi citizens.

Heavy oil or vacuum residue is complex, black in color, highly dense, and extremely viscous in nature. These materials contain high amounts of impurities such as heteroatoms and large organic compounds like saturates, aromatics, resins, and asphaltenes, making it difficult to exploit in conventional oil refineries. This type of oil is found in large quantities in Saudi Arabia and all over the world. Converting this type of oil into high value chemical materials is a strategic goal for the Kingdom and for the world.

This project aims to develop an innovative technology for the conversion of heavy oil and refining residues in a one-step reaction, into light olefins (ethylene, propylene and butelene) using a catalytic cracking process. The research team at KACST is working to develop highly selective catalysts and to optimize the reaction conditions for converting heavy oil and refining residues into the desired compounds.

The low price of heavy oil and vacuum residue and the high economic value of the target products make this project very competitive compared to similar technologies in petrochemical industries.

Every year, billions of Saudi Riyals are spent on capital replacement and control methods for corrosion infrastructure particularly in oil and gas energy sector at the Kingdom. This is due to the extreme operating conditions e.g. high temperature and pressure, and using high acid and alkaline concentration. As a result high corrosion rate is obtained and led to a swift damage to  factory production lines hence increases the cost of production.

This project is aiming to provide a solution of corrosion in the infrastructure in oil and gas energy by producing novel thin film alloys that has a superior corrosion resistance. In the first phase, a technical solution will be developed to deliver superior protective coating compared to hard chromium, without using Cr+6 baths. Public and government agencies having already recognized the extremely harmful impact of Cr+6 in both human health and environment (cancers, respiratory problems, contamination of aquifer etc) have begun to enact legislations and regulations against hard chromium plating in order to protect public health and workers involved with handling chromium plating. Chromium plating results in toxic mist, and creates sludge containing high concentrations of Cr+6. The plating baths and rinsing tanks both contain large quantities of hexavalent chrome and their disposal contradicts to environmental restriction. The proposed coating is based on nickel salts. The use of nickel salts instead of extremely hazardous hexavalent chromium will relieve the electroplating industry from the health and environmental problems that the latter causes. In addition, the corrosion behavior of the electrodeposited MgB2 will be examined using indoor electrochemical measurement. Besides the Ni-P coatings reinforced with high modulus particles of MgB2 and tungsten oxide will be explored.

In the second phase, Electroplating technique will be used to produce a Cu/TiO2 metal matrix coatings and these would exhibit anti-microbial properties under indoor light due to photo catalysis and retard the growth of bacteria.

The change in crude oil quality around the world has affected the petroleum-refining industry in such a way that current and new refineries are being re-designed to process heavier feedstocks. These new feeds are characterized by high viscosity, density, and boiling point, low API gravity, high amounts of impurities (sulfur, metals, nitrogen, asphaltenes) and low distillate yields, which make them more difficult in terms of production, processing and upgrading compared with light crude oils. Moreover, the extraction and refining of heavy oils generates as much as three times the total CO2 emissions compared to conventional oil. Contrarily, the demand of light distillates for producing the so-called clean fuels is increasing throughout the world. These circumstances place not only refineries but also research centers, catalyst manufacturers and process developers in a great dilemma. They need to adapt and design future technologies for properly producing, processing and upgrading heavy oils. Processes for upgrading heavy oils can be broadly divided into carbon rejection processes (such as coking, visbreaking, and other processes such as solvent deasphalting) and hydrogen addition processes (such as hydrotreating, hydrocracking, hydrovisbreaking and donor-solvent processes). Carbon rejection redistributes hydrogen among the various components, resulting in fractions with increased hydrogen/carbon ratios and fractions with lower hydrogen/carbon atomic ratios. On the other hand, hydrogen addition processes involve reaction heavy crude oils with an external source of hydrogen and result in an overall increase in the hydrogen/carbon ratio. The current technologies of heavy oils conversion into more valuable products, including many processes with different characteristics such as thermal cracking, FCC, hydrocracking, gasification and so on, enabling the effective utilization of heavy oil. However, these technologies are still facing some technical challenges, which make them very expensive, such as the high content of sulfur and nitrogen, over cracking, coke formation, and low yields of the desired products. The research team in this project aims to:

Develop new methods for heavy oil extractions.

Explore novel processes and robust catalysts for upgrading of heavy oil.

Synthesize an efficient catalyst with appropriate support to remove sulfur in the ultra-deep hydrodesulfurization of fuels.

Reduce CO2 emissions produced from heavy oil processes.

This project depends on the development of a specific process for the production of hydrogen through the cracking of crude oil, heavy oil or heavy hydrocarbons, using microwave technology. In the first phase of this joint project between KACST and the University of Oxford, a process was developed to produce hydrogen from heavy hydrocarbons and was published in the journal of Nature.

The aim of the second phase of this project is to design and construct a reactor based on microwave radiation for localization of this technology to produce high-purity hydrogen in large quantities from crude oil. In addition, the project will aim to develop catalysts and test their activity and selectivity in the cracking process of crude oil using microwave radiation and to find out the optimum conditions of pressures, temperatures and proportions of the reactants in order to simulate industrial processes.

In this stage, equipment and materials needed to design the microwave reactor and to build a bench-top pilot plant have been secured, in addition to testing the catalysts and studying the properties of the crude oil.

The project aims to develop effective catalysts and new technology to produce environmentally friendly additives as alternatives to those currently used in gasoline and to produce efficient, pollutant-free, clean fuel. In this project, equipment and materials have been prepared. In addition, a laboratory bench-top pilot plant was installed and calibrated to test the catalysts in a gas phase using continuous flow fixed bed reactors. Some types of catalysts have been prepared and tested under different variable conditions to produce fuel additives with high conversion.

The catalyst is environmentally friendly and the conditions of its use in the process of producing clean fuel is efficient, economical, easy to prepare and handle, and not corrosive compared with other commercial catalysts. The additives are free of oxygen compounds, which improve the combustible characteristics of fuel and reduce its consumption and emissions of harmful gases and pollutants to the environment. It also performs better than the additive currently used in the market.

In this project, different classes of crystalline porous solids, metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), covalent-organic frameworks (COFs), and zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs), were designed and synthesized to develop solutions to challenges in renewable and cleaner energy. The new crystalline porous frameworks have high surface areas (2,000-10,000 m2/g) with unique chemical, physical and mechanical properties. The research team’s activities can be summarized as follows:

They have successfully synthesized metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) with high chemical flexibility, by introducing various and multivariate functional groups to their interior. We are undertaking efforts to design MTV-MOFs for potential use of gas storage, which showed its ability for gas storage with good efficiency.

The selective capture of carbon dioxide in the presence of water is an outstanding challenge, because the CO2 adsorption process is competitive to adsorption of water in a flue gas. To overcome this challenge, there are two strategies; one is to introduce chemisorption sites into the framework, another is to make hydrophobic pores to exclude water from the pores. The team’s efforts are devoted to synthesize noble porous solids that enable high efficiency carbon capture and regeneration with minimum energy inputs.

Methane is the main constituent of natural gas; however, the catalytic conversion of methane to useful feedstock chemicals (such as acetic acid and methanol) is a long-standing challenge. The team believe that a catalytic system combining the high activity of homogeneous catalysts and the ease of use of heterogeneous catalysts is a promising strategy to realize gas-to-liquids reactions with high efficiency. To this end, the team is undertaking efforts to synthesize a new type of heterogeneous catalysis, where metal nanocrystals are embedded in single nanocrystals of MOFs. They are also anticipate that such core-shell type materials are helpful to elucidate the mechanism of catalytic reactions.

To synthesize MOFs for practical applications (e.g. storage), a large quantity of materials are necessary. The team has synthesized 100-1Kg of MOF materials.