Making Natural Gas More Economical to Produce and Transport

Article appeared on Stockwatch website

By Ms Jumana Sharanik* and Dr Constantinos Hadjistassou#

The discovery of large accumulations of natural gas in block 6, about 160km offshore Cyprus, calls for a better understanding of the mechanisms of natural gas production and storage. At the EU, decision-makers have made it clear that the bloc needs new gas supplies this decade so it can replace Russian gas, but not beyond 2030. Globally, demand for natural gas is rising. Based on prevailing energy policies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects a 25% increase in world gas demand, by 2050. This means that the world will need more gas to fulfil future demand, notwithstanding the accelerating climate change actions. Hence, there are plenty of reasons for engineers and scientists to devise new ideas that will boost gas supplies while facilitating the transportation of natural gas. Along these lines, the FabRocks research project implemented by the Marine & Carbon Lab, at the University of Nicosia, and funded by the Cypriot Research and Innovation foundation examines ways to render Cypriot gas easier to recover from gas reservoirs and more economical to store in porous materials.
Technological tools such as micro-CT scanning, a medical imaging modality used to obtain images of the human body, and additive manufacturing, colloquially known as 3D printing, offer the capabilities of broadening our knowledge as far as probing the processes which govern natural gas production and storage. Invented in 1967, by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, the first computing tomography (CT) scanner was used for medical purposes. Nowadays, a variety of CT modalities are utilised in numerous applications. For example, micro-CT and nano-CT are employed by many scientific disciplines, namely, in medicine, the energy sector and the geosciences, to name a few. Gradually, destructive methods are replaced by CT scanners and other technologies owing to the non-invasive nature of the latter techniques. Thus, many reservoir samples and rock outcrops can be scanned using micro-CT scanners. With relative easiness it is possible to scan many rock cores while determining their structural characteristics such as porosity and permeability. Properties like porosity and permeability govern the amount of trapped gas and the ability of the gas to be extracted from a formation to the surface of the sea, respectively.
Additive manufacturing (AM) on the other hand is another technological tool that makes it possible to fabricate a range of objects from bridges to prosthetic limbs to automotive parts. In recent decades, telecommunications, manufacturing, architecture, and engineering have undergone their own digital revolutions. Presently, 3D printing can introduce digital flexibility and efficiency to manufacturing operations. As its name implies, additive manufacturing adds a material, on a layer by layer basis, to create an object. By contrast, when an object is produced by traditional manufacturing methods, it is often necessary to remove material through milling, machining, carving, shaping or other means. 3D printing is a subset of additive manufacturing that delivers a near-perfect trifecta of improved performance, complex geometries, and simplified fabrication. Opportunities abound when using 3D printing to fabricate artificial rock cores.
Together a micro-CT scanner and a 3D printer can be utilised to emulate rock samples. The idea of fabricating smart replicas of rock analogues helps better sense gas and liquid flow, identify and trace various substances, sequester contaminants, and probe reactive flow. All of these ideas and many others will help Cyprus catch-up with other countries including efforts to retain carbon dioxide. Fabricated cores can facilitate a profound understanding of the processes which boost gas recovery from gas discoveries in carbonate formations, in block 6, or from the Aphrodite sandstone reservoir in concession number 12. Moreover, the research can foster the design of porous materials that can store more natural gas. The flexibility in studying these properties, their characteristics, and processes using fabricated cores cannot be easily attained by simply studying actual lithologies alone.
Therefore, focussing our research efforts on oil and gas resources it will prove instrumental in monetising the gas fields of Cyprus in the sea. Perhaps the best present to the next generations will be to bring this gas to the markets. Not only Cyprus can become a role model country in the region, it will also strengthen its geopolitical leverage. Joining efforts to lower the costs of these resources will boost the chances of developing the valuable gas assets found offshore Cyprus. Collectively, technology and human ingenuity will have to be invested in these discoveries. Let us hope brighter days lie ahead. More details about the project can be found at:

*Doctoral student and #associate professor, Marine & Carbon Lab, University of Nicosia.

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