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Colombia enlists A&M help to purify dirty waters

Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

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The Texas A&M Global Petroleum Research Institute and Food Protein Research & Development Center uses wastewaters to be processed to many different levels of purity.

Texas A&M engineering has sparked the interest of Colombian officials in the market for clean water. Researchers at the University offer water-cleaning technology called membrane filtration, which purifies water contaminated from oil and natural gas production.

David Burnett, director of technology at Global Petroleum Research Institute, said more than 15 years of research lie behind Texas A&M’s water filtration technologies and the demand for water filtration is not limited to Colombia.

“I was paying more for fresh water in the park store than I was paying for gasoline for my truck,” Burnett said of his time in Columbia. “It occurred to me that if industry can refine crude oil, it ought to be able to ‘refine’ saltwater to make it drinkable.”

Burnett said industries in Colombia need affordable, facile methods of determining the content of impaired waters and purified waters in a short period of time.

Before wastewater from oil and natural gas operations can be purified for human use and consumption, it must be processed to remove contaminants, such as oily wastes and residual petroleum hydrocarbons.

Through their research, Brine said the group found that effectively removed water requires membrane filters to separate waste from the water.

“Texas A&M and its partners have developed highly efficient membrane treatment and reverse osmosis desalination for waste water, including oil field-produced water,” Burnett said.

A&M researchers also developed cleaning agents for membrane filters utilizing environmentally friendly materials so that the water from the treatment process will meet drinking water standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The University recently signed a contract to discuss water filtration technologies with Colombian oil officials and to provide training for chemists and engineers about utilizing the technology. Classes with hands-on training for both the equipment and analytical processes are scheduled with groups from Colombia to begin as soon as this summer.

Burnett and Keith McElroy of Texas Engineering Experiment Station travelled to Colombia last year to provide an overview of the technology and discuss goals for testing and operating water facilities.

McElroy said an important part of the water treatment process is analytical testing. His role is to ensure the quality of the treated water and provide analytical support. McElroy is currently developing a training course that can be taught in Colombia.

“We are working with Ecopetrol [the largest petroleum company in Colombia] and South Colombia University in establishing water treatment technology and developing an environmental laboratory for them,” McElroy said.

Timothy Clarke, petroleum engineering graduate student, works in Burnett’s water treatment team. He said he enjoys the opportunity to work with a team maintaining a mobile capacity to filter and treat wastewater.

“As technology allows access to previously inaccessible sources of petroleum, the ability to monitor environmental and waste water impact on-site contributes to rapid project development determinations” Clarke said. “Additionally, the mobile water treatment platform could help indicate the viability of previously untested oilfield systems.”

Carl Vavra, of Texas Engineering Experiment Station, has worked with Burnett for 11 years in wastewater treatment and said potable water supply is a major issue facing global populations.

“It will only get to be a larger issue in the future with population increases, droughts, global warming,” Vavra said. “Companies like GE are actually buying water treatment companies and have many divisions that work all over the world with water issues.”

Vavra said these water filtration projects put A&M at the front of the race in this research.

“Texas A&M is a leader in developing and using these technologies, especially in the oil and gas industries for purifying wastewaters for reuse,” Vavra said. “I am very proud to be part of this technology that will help people in Texas, the U.S. and other parts of the World.”

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