Science

Device zaps oil to make it flow easier

Device zaps oil to make it flo...
The crude-oil-thinning Applied Oil Technology device (Photo: Save The World Air, Inc.)
The crude-oil-thinning Applied Oil Technology device (Photo: Save The World Air, Inc.)
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The crude-oil-thinning Applied Oil Technology device (Photo: Save The World Air, Inc.)
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The crude-oil-thinning Applied Oil Technology device (Photo: Save The World Air, Inc.)

It's a simple fact that the more fluid an oil is, the easier it is to pump. That's why oil companies typically heat sections of pipeline, to reduce the viscosity of the crude oil traveling within. Generating that heat still requires a fair amount of energy, however, plus the oil's reduced viscosity produces turbulence in its flow. Temple University's Prof. Rongjia Tao has developed what may be a better alternative – a device that electrifies the oil.

Tao first conceived of the concept in 2006, and has since collaborated with energy company Save The World Air, Inc. (STWA) to create the Applied Oil Technology (AOT) device.

Attached to a pipeline, it produces an electric field that runs in the same direction as the oil flow. This causes dissolved particulate matter distributed throughout the oil to temporarily coagulate into nano-scale particle clusters. These clusters present less surface area than all the individual particles did on their own, thus lowering the oil's viscosity in the direction that it's flowing. At the same time, however, its viscosity perpendicular to the flow increases, thus minimizing turbulence.

When the technology was tested on a section of the Keystone pipeline in Kansas last summer, it reportedly allowed the same flow rate to be maintained while using 75 percent less pumping power – 0.7 megawatts instead of the 2.8 required without the AOT. As for the the device itself, it uses 720 watts.

After being treated by the AOT, oil retains its lower viscosity for over 11 hours. With that in mind, Tao suggests that pipelines could be outfitted with devices placed at regular intervals, in order to keep the oil from thickening up again.

Another test of the system, on a pipeline in South Texas, was announced last month.

Several years ago Tao and STWA collaborated on a device that works on a similar principle, which is claimed to increase the efficiency of internal combustion engines by reducing the viscosity of fuel.

Source: APS Physics, Save The World Air, Inc. (PDF)

3 comments
Racqia Dvorak
This is some pretty cool technology. I just have to wonder who the first person was who thought "Gee, I bet it would help if we electrified our oil."
TeZ
If that's possible and looks like it is, wouldn't it be great if a car or engine could control the viscosity of it's own oil electronically regardless of engine temperature? No need for 10w 30, 20w 50 etc. One oil weight could be used and then the engine could decide the viscosity it needed at any given time.
Robert in Vancouver
The Keystone pipeline was a cleaner and safer way to transport oil than rail cars.
Now it's even more clean and safe.
Yet the US gov't won't approve it. They prefer to bring oil sands oil from Venezuela by oil tankers instead of buying Canadian oil.