An engineering PhD student from the University of Western Australia has been named a 2020 ‘Energy Influencer’ for his research into environmentally-friendly drilling fluids.
One of fifteen young engineering professionals recognised in the list, developed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, researcher Wai Li said his ambitions to improve the sustainability of drilling practices began a decade ago.
“I’ve been working to improve the sustainability of drilling and well construction for ten years, since starting my Masters in Oil and Gas Engineering at the China University of Petroleum,” Li told create.
“At that time, most of the drilling operators in China did not recognise the importance of environmentally-friendly drilling and completion fluids, but [instead] focused on optimising the … traditional petrodiesel-based fluids.”
Noting the global trend against eco toxic base oils, Li focused on developing a series of environmentally-friendly offshore drilling fluids. By 2015, he had developed two high-performance, biomass-based drilling fluids (BBDFs) and one biomass-based lubricant, suitable for drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas.
“These products have great biodegradability and extremely low toxicity with excellent operational performance,” Li said.
“The key point of these achievements is using the booming bio-oil, such as ‘biodiesel’ and similar materials with high environmental acceptability, to replace the traditional base oils.”
Li was granted Chinese patents for his three techniques, which have since been tested in the Chinese oilfields of Shandong and Tianjin.
“Our lubricant products have [also] been approved for use in trials by [oil and gas company] PetroChina,” Li said.
“Our main target is to test them more in China … I can expect that our techniques will help improve drilling efficiency with … reasonable cost and high environmental acceptability.”
As well as undertaking his PhD at UWA, Li consults for Beijing Oilchemleader, contributing to research and engineering projects in drilling fluids, waste treatment, cementing, oilfield chemistry, foam flooding and hydraulic fracturing.
With his work already published in more than 20 technical papers, this young researcher appears to be at the start of a promising career.
“This recognition from the academic circle encouraged us to further deepen and extend these studies,” Li said.
“I’m continuing to submit new papers to academic journals to show the recent improvement of these innovative fluids and additives…[and] I am now doing preliminary work to apply the biomass oil to fracking fluids [too].”
What are BBDFs?
BBDFs belong to the category of Ester Based Drilling Fluids (EBDFs), which emerged in the 1990s out of an increasing desire to reduce the environmental impact of drilling operations.
Li said traditional EBDFs faded out in the 2010s due to poor operational performance and high costs, but recent developments in the biofuel industry have sparked opportunity in the area.
“Improving the sustainability of oil and gas drilling is a hot issue. Many scientists and engineers have been trying to offer their solutions in different ways,” he said.
“As a scientific researcher, I feel proud to be one of the pioneers of BBDF, but we still have a long way to go so that the oil and gas industry comprehensively accepts it.
“This needs the joint endeavour of many people including scientists, engineers, managers as well as governments.”