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FO technology gives fluvicon a leg up in O&G downcycle

fluvicon foresees growing interest in its forward osmosis-based treatment technology due to producers’ search for economical water management approaches.

Despite the oil & gas industry downturn, Austrian startup fluvicon is forging ahead with a search for partners that can help it take its proprietary technology to the international market. The young company, founded in 2013, initially focused on seawater desalination but now sees its technology as an ideal solution for oil & gas producers targeting operational and cost efficiencies in markets where regulations are expected to become more stringent. The startup has already conducted several produced water treatment pilots in Europe.

fluvicon offers two different types of continuous membrane separation based on forward osmosis (FO) – osmodialysis and ionosmosis – via mobile systems which can be configured to process as little as 30 liters per hour and as much as 1,000 cubic meters per hour. The fouling and scaling-resistant membranes have long lifespans and require little maintenance.

“Membrane processes aren’t commonly used in oil & gas because the membranes wouldn’t survive the harsh conditions and aggressive raw waters for any half-decent length of time,” fluvicon CEO Thomas Grießler explained to WiO. “This is not the case with FO and our related dialysis technology, which are pressureless. These are the only membrane processes I’m aware of that don’t press the water, oil and polluting load against the membranes.”

In the oil & gas space, fluvicon has seen more interest in its osmodialysis capabilities. That process can efficiently separate produced water – even very fine oil emulsions – into a saltwater phase with oil content below 2 ppm and a nearly water-free oil phase that retains the produced water’s non-ionic impurities, such as heavy metals and organics. The resulting water can be reinjected for reservoir pressure maintenance and enhanced oil recovery, reused in ancillary processes or, in the case of offshore operations, discharged to sea.

The ionosmosis application also has a place in produced water treatment. It can be used to concentrate brine, allowing producers to reduce the amount of water sent for disposal. Around 70-90% of the water can be recovered salt-free for reuse in other applications. The technology could also potentially be installed on ships and deployed to remediate oil spills at sea.

fluvicon’s processes can substitute several conventional water treatment steps from flotation to walnut shell filtration, thus simplifying the produced water treatment train and cutting producers’ water management costs. This is advantageous for the startup, as its customers are grappling with low oil prices and market volatility.

“Most of the bigger European operations have only two options to consider,” Grießler said. “They can either get out of the E&P business in the coming years and leave it to those that can extract oil relatively easily and cheaply, or they can become competitive and economical by drastically reducing their production costs.”

fluvicon’s pricing depends on the starting water quality, but Grießler estimates that operating expenditures would be around 50% lower than using conventional technologies to achieve the same end results. This is because the company’s processes are energy-efficient, do not require consumables and would only call for very minor pretreatment, if at all.

Though it is currently focused on the European market, fluvicon is interested in working with international customers struggling to meet water discharge requirements with conventional treatment technologies, as well as in deploying its technology to treat produced water from unconventional plays. The company is also keeping a pulse on the water-intensive mining sector, particularly in Africa, where environmental policies are becoming more stringent to address contamination of local water supplies.

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