Brad Kaanta (ME): Chemical Detection for Oil and Other Applications





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Published on Mar 4, 2011

"Before I came to the College of Engineering, I was exposed to MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) research in the U.S. Air Force. I loved micro-fabrication, and I came to the College of Engineering to specifically work in [Associate] Professor Xin Zhang's (ME) lab. I also received a Dean's Fellowship, which enabled me to find my own research project and dive right in.

One of the main areas of my research concerns cleaner resource exploration. In this discipline, our lab has developed a very successful and mutually beneficial research relationship with Schlumberger, an oilfield and energy services company. In collaboration with Schlumberger, I'm now working to build detectors for gas micro-chromatography, a technique used in chemical analysis.

In the oil industry, more accurate chemical analysis can improve engineers' ability to detect different types of oil in the ground. Ideally, gas chromatography can detect gases ranging in size anywhere from 'C1' -- methane -- to 'C40,' which is basically sludge or wax. If you can detect what's in the output, you can generate fewer pollutants during the process. Oil well sites can cost over $100,000 per hour to run, so the more information you have before drilling, the less damage you can do, and the quicker you can get results.

Our group was able to start on the project from the ground up, and it's been a positive progression from the beginning. We eventually plan to create a highly portable device and move the research from the lab to the field.

Originally this project was funded only for a year, but because of our success, we're currently working on a three-year, National Science Foundation grant. Schlumberger has already transferred some of the research we've developed to their engineering centers. This shows that our research has been successful, and there are clear signs of future positive results."

- Brad Kaanta, as told to Jason L. London

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