The Evolution of Petroleum Systems Analysis: A Future For Petroleum Geochemistry?
The basic tenets of petroleum geochemistry were developed in the 1970s ‐ mid 1990s. These were based on fundamental discovery and technology development, at universities, government and industrial research centers, with many companies having research centers and ambitious R&D programs in the 1980s‐90s, promoted by government support. Government support for R&D in the 1990s also catalyzed the unconventionals revolution. Changes in industry business models, plus mergers and acquisitions, resulted in reduction in numbers of industrial research centres since the 1980s, and in the 21st century, disappearance of fundamental research within much of the oil industry has occurred, focus being on incremental problem solving. This has made it challenging for university research groups to function in collaborative research with the petroleum industry, as funding has become ad hoc and unsustainable. When the objective is to “make a difference” and attract highest quality staff into petroleum research, it becomes challenging when there are other exciting options available to students. Additionally, increasing use of AIML tools is taking over those parts of geoscience that involve pattern recognition, including much of petroleum geochemistry and thus, much routine work carried out by geochemists, may be replaced by software and fewer experts. While there will be a need for practitioners, it is no longer clear that, outside of a few companies, there is a major market for PhD level or postdoctoral geochemical researchers in the future oil and gas industry. While passion for basic research has declined, the environmental challenges for continued use of fossil fuels have never been greater , and with rapid changes in road transportation (EV, ride sharing etc), traditional petroleum use may wane quickly. In such uncertain settings, can petroleum geochemistry provide attractive opportunities for students, providing duplex skills, relevant to the end of the oil era and for careers related to renewable energy, materials science, AIML and biology revolutions? Here, we describe geochemical research directions that might have such properties. Firstly, we are investigating applications of redox active species present in oil, such as quinones, and quinone‐like compounds, and their use in electrochemical energy systems of the future such as flow batteries . To that end, we are utilizing conventional and state‐of‐the‐art tools for isolation, characterization and quantitation of species which exhibit redox activity. Petroleum derived redox active materials could significantly reduce the cost of redox‐flow batteries, currently at $400‐600/kWh . Secondly, potential zero‐emission petroleum based, energy systems, with no carbon emissions, are being developed within our SYZYGY project, a cross‐disciplinary venture, involving microbiologists, geochemists, electrochemists, reservoir and mechanical engineers. The goal of SYZYGY is evaluation of direct electricity production from oil reservoirs by “harvesting” energy from in‐reservoir microbial oil oxidation. An electron shuttle (oxidised manganese, iron or quinone species), is injected with water into the reservoir; microbes, present in the reservoir, use the shuttle as terminal electron acceptor to oxidize the fossil fuel molecules in situ, reducing the shuttle. The reduced shuttle flows to the surface, where it is reoxidized with atmospheric oxygen in a fuel cell yielding electricity. The reoxidized shuttle is recycled to the first well and carbon dioxide is trapped in the reservoir. We describe developments, showing how petroleum geochemistry and petroleum systems analysis are invaluable tools for the success of such projects. Further developments for both technologies include better understanding of fundamental mechanisms involved, and requirements for up‐scaling from laboratory to pilot demonstrations. 1. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/ : 2. Radović J., Venkatesan S., Mannan, P., Thangadurai V., Larter S. Redox Active Organic Compounds Sourced from Bitumen for Next Generation Energy Systems. Suncor Academic Forum, Calgary, Canada. : 3. M. Moore et al., J. Adv. Chem. Eng., 2015, 5:4.: 4. Larter, Strous et al(2015) SYZYGY Project and team. https://www.ucalgary.ca/prg/syzygy : 5. Steve Larter, Marc Strous and Steven Bryant(2017) SYZYGY‐energy from oilfields without any of the carbon. Potential routes to electrical power generation at scale from oil fields. CSPG Geoconvention 2017: https://www.geoconvention.com/archives/2017/219_GC2017_SYZYGY‐ energy_from_oilfields_without_any_of‐the_carbon.pdf
AAPG Datapages/Search and Discovery Article #90349 © 2019 AAPG Hedberg Conference, The Evolution of Petroleum Systems Analysis: Changing of the Guard from Late Mature Experts to Peak Generating Staff, Houston, Texas, March 4-6, 2019