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UCalgary petroleum engineer earns prestigious NSERC/NEXEN and CNOOC research chair

Industrial Research Chair partnership supports innovation in heavy-oil recovery

Michael Platt

Dr. Brij Maini and his graduate students

A heavy-oil industry that can compete with conventional extraction – that’s the goal of a new industrial research chair established in partnership between industry and one of the world’s most respected heavy-oil scientists.

Dr. Brij Maini, a professor at the Schulich School of Engineering, has been named the NSERC/Nexen and CNOOC Industrial Research Chair in Advanced In-situ Recovery Processes for Oil Sands, with a mandate to study additives that will reduce the financial and environmental costs of steam injection for heavy oil recovery.

“We have problems in the industry right now because of the low oil prices, so I want to be able to walk out at the end having developed some technique that will make oil sands profitable and environmentally sustainable, even at a low price,” says Maini, who joined the university in 1999.

“I do think it’s possible, and I do think we’re close.”

The author of over 100 peer-reviewed articles and numerous conference papers, Maini’s work over the past four decades has helped push the science of heavy-oil recovery from educated guesswork to a solid understanding of reservoirs and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD).

Industrial Research Chairs are a key part of the University of Calgary’s Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow Research Strategy, with a goal of providing the world with safer, more secure energy.

“Dr. Maini is doing phenomenal work to reduce the environmental impact and resource intensity of current extraction processes,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, vice-president (Research) at the University of Calgary. “With his new Industrial Research Chair in oil sands recovery and the support from NSERC, Nexen and CNOOC, Dr. Maini’s work will benefit the energy sector across Canada.”

The NSERC Industrial Research Chairs program is a collaboration between scientists, industry partners and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), supporting a major research endeavour of critical importance to the entire country.

Results from this NSERC/industry funded research is then shared publicly through peer-reviewed sources and help drive innovation across the country.

“NSERC is proud to support Dr. Maini, an accomplished researcher with the track record, international stature and proven expertise to successfully lead this research collaboration between CNOOC, Nexen and the University of Calgary,” says Dr. B. Mario Pinto, president of NSERC.

“The enhanced training experience being offered to students and postdoctoral fellows will nurture the next generation of highly skilled researchers at the fore of Canada’s sustainable energy future.”

The next step is reducing the cost and environmental impact of SAGD, and for those invested in the future of bitumen, Maini’s research is a source of heavy-oil optimism.

“At Nexen delivering energy in a sustainable way is a critical component to how we do business,” said Fang Zhi, CEO, Nexen Energy. “We are proud to support Dr. Brij Maini and the University’s Industrial Research Chair program. The innovative research done here will help drive improvements in quality and efficiency and create growth for the oil sands industry in the years to come.”

Maini’s work, alongside a team of highly-skilled collaborators, including Dr. Mingzhe Dong, Dr. Hossein Hejazi, Dr. Hemanta Sarma, Dr. Jalal Abedi and Dr. Ron Chik-Kwong Wong, places his Schulich laboratory at the heart of heavy-oil innovation and Canada’s energy future.

The team is currently examining the mechanisms at work when solvents, surfactants and gases are added with the steam to reduce the high viscosity of heavy oil and minimize heat losses to the reservoir. This will lead to optimized recovery processes with much less environmental impact than current technologies.
“Research like this makes a significant impact on people’s lives and Canada’s economy,” says Bill Rosehart, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering.

Sustainable, economical heavy-oil recovery is critical to the long-term success of the country’s energy sector. Partnerships with NSERC, industry and government make this research possible.”

Located in the heart of Canada's energy sector, the University of Calgary has built a reputation as a global leader in energy research and innovation. With a focus on our low-carbon future, diverse teams are also assessing the effects of energy-related processes while harnessing unconventional hydrocarbon resources through the Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow research strategy.

About the University of Calgary

The University of Calgary is a global intellectual hub located in Canada’s most enterprising city. In our spirited, high-quality learning environment, students thrive in programs made rich by research, hands-on experiences and entrepreneurial thinking. Our strategy drives us to be recognized as one of Canada’s top five research universities, engaging the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.' For more information, visitucalgary.ca/eyeshigh.

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