Biopolynet Wins Statoil, GE Award
Last week, the Norwegian state oil company and the oil and gas unit of the conglomerate General Electric Co. announced BioPolynet was one of five winners of the Open Innovation Challenge.
The competition asked entrants — and there were about 100 from more than 30 countries — to submit technologies that can improve the use of sand in the hydraulic fracturing process. Each of the five winners received US$25,000 and could win an additional US$375,000 if they reach certain milestones.
It was a shot in the arm for BioPolynet founder and CEO Mostafa Aghaei. He said in an interview that BioPolynet is now working on a few projects and entering a critical two-month period that will decide what project or projects to proceed with and how.
“We are excited and honoured to win such a large global challenge,” Aghaei said on the Innovation Challenge website. “This prize will make a big difference to our company.”
A biophysicist by profession, Aghaei immigrated to New Brunswick from the Middle East a few years ago to take a position at the University of New Brunswick. He developed an environmentally friendly Nanocoil product that has a range of applications.
Developed from natural polymers, the microscopic particles are shaped like corkscrews, so they bind together. That means if they are mixed with water, the liquid becomes more viscous, or thicker. If that solution is mixed with a solid like sand or wood particles, the material will hold together once the liquid dries.
In Iran, he used the substance to stabilize sand dunes, massive structures that can jeopardize whole towns if they shift. The other applications include using it to bind together iron ore pellets or wood pellets for efficient transportation. And the technology can be used to improve the use of sand in hydraulic fracking.
Sand plays a critical role in shale development and fracking. It’s mixed with water and injected into a geological formation to prop open tiny fractures during the fracking process. This requires hundreds of truck trips to transport materials, so Statoil and GE held the competition to seek innovations that could reduce the amount of sand, thus mitigating the environmental impact of the procedure.
What BioPolynet has done is to use its product to make the fluid more viscous, meaning it sticks more readily to the walls of the structure. That means the mixture is more effective in propping open the fracture so less sand and water are needed.
Between now and October, Aghaei will be conducting a series of tests that should determine the direction of the company. He is considering a few options. There is interest in Dubai in using his technology to stabilize sand dunes. Or it could possibly be used in the manufacture of black pellets, a wood product that burns more efficiently and transported more easily than the conventional white pellets.
And then there is the project with Statoil and GE, for which he was just recognized.