Impact area: separations

Partner: Imperial

The challenge: Adjusting the salinity of water used in the flooding of oil reservoirs has the potential to enhance oil recovery. Reverse osmosis (RO) is currently used to adjust the water salinity. Predicting and ensuring membrane lifetime performance is critical for efficient and reliable water operations that use reverse osmosis.

Images: Right shows a schematic of reverse osmosis process. Image left shows a hollow fibre membrane used in reverse osmosis.

Our objective: Understanding the mechanism of transport through membranes and developing new models that better predict the performance of membranes from the molecular to the ‘real world’ scale will enable current membrane technology to be used with increased efficiency as well as leading to new membranes which are highly efficient and resistant to fouling.

Our separations programme is aimed at:

  • Understanding the relationship between membrane structure, properties and membrane flux.
  • Developing more efficient and increased fouling resistance membranes.
  • Operational savings realised through improved membranes for enhanced oil recovery.

Research solution: This ICAM research project is investigating molecular level design, characterisation and fabrication of new membranes that will enable optimisation of membrane performance underpinned by:

  • Modelling and simulation of the transport of molecules through (RO) membranes.
  • Imaging and characterisation of membranes and transport mechanisms.
  • Design and synthesis of membranes.

Underpinning science - reverse osmosis: Reverse osmosis is the process where under pressure across a membrane saline for example, is separated into water and concentrated salt solution. Using this technique the salinity of the water can be controlled. This ‘low salinity’ water can  be injected into oil reservoirs where it can help release oil that is bound to the rock surfaces in the rock pores – increasing the amount of oil that can be recovered.

Our research will potentially enable development of new high selectivity and efficient membranes with service longevity.