UTSA, SwRI researchers to develop low-cost method to treat fracking water

Eagle Ford Shale

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(Aug. 6, 2013) -- Researchers at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) jointly announce they are investing $200,000 in new research to develop a low-cost method to treat flow-back water following hydraulic fracturing. Over the next year, the researchers will optimize an inexpensive charcoal product called biochar for the water treatment solution. It will be tested on water samples from the Eagle Ford Shale.

Flow-back water treatment is currently a critical sustainability issue for the oil and gas industry. By sheer volume, flow-back water is expensive to treat because a single well can require one to five million gallons of fracking fluid. Environmental factors also must be considered because flow-back water includes salts, hydrocarbons and heavy metals, making it unsafe for disposal on land and in streams.

UTSA mechanical engineering faculty member Zhigang Feng and SwRI senior research scientist Maoqi Feng believe that they can alter biochar derived from wood chips to create an economical and environmentally friendly solution. Produced from pyrolysis of biomass, biochar is a stable charcoal-like solid that attracts and retains water, absorbing up impurities such as hydrocarbons, organics, biocides and certain inorganic metal ions.

Over the course of the study, the researchers will isolate, prepare and characterize the biochar; test the biochar on flow-back water samples from the Eagle Ford shale; develop computer models of the biochar water treatment system; and assess the biochar performance for possible improvements.

If successful, they expect the biochar treatment to be the second step of a two-step water purification process. The first step would include filtration to remove the solids in the water remaining from the fracking process. The treated water would then be ready for re-use or safe disposal.

The Connect program, an annual UTSA-SwRI joint funding initiative, was established in 2010 to stimulate inter-organizational research between UTSA scholars and SwRI investigators in fields such as advanced materials, chemistry and chemical engineering, energy, the environment, security and manufacturing.

>> Connect online at the SwRI website, an SwRI video clip website or the SwRI YouTube site.

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About UTSA

The University of Texas at San Antonio is an emerging Tier One research institution specializing in health, energy, security, sustainability, and human and social development. With nearly 31,000 students, it is the largest university in the San Antonio metropolitan region. UTSA advances knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. The university embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property -- for Texas, the nation and the world.