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Demin Wang: renewables will not replace oil, gas and coal

Renewable energy sources will not be able to replace oil, gas and coal,  said Demin Wang, Deputy Director of Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau and nominee for the Global Energy Prize, in an interview with a Global Energy website columnist.

Global Energy Association: Hello, dear subscribers of the Global Energy Association, this is yet another interview with one of our shortlist candidates for this year’s Global Energy Prize, Prof Demin Wang. Good afternoon, Prof Wang! My interlocutor was nominated “for inventing a set of world-leading layered mining and testing technologies”. I can’t refrain from giving a piece of feedback he got from the experts. I quote here: “After evaluating the contributions and achievements in their countries and the world, I would place Mr. Demin Wang the first among other candidates. Undoubtedly, he is a world-class leader.” Prof Wang, you are the author of "Songliao method", China's first unstable well testing method. I will admit to you that it is quite difficult to find information about this method in Russian or English-language sources. Could you give us a bit of explanation of your fundamental research?

Demin Wang: This research was started in 1960-1961. This method has been used from 1961 in all of Daqing field up to now and in its modifications in most of China’s oilfields. Daqing is the large field, you know, it has more than a 100000 wells. Back in 1961 China did not have many contacts with other countries, so I never wrote anything about it, but it was used in China. And in Daqing it was used since that time for more than a million times already. Do you want to know what is new about this method compared to other methods of well testing?

Global Energy Association: Of course, yes.

Demin Wang: Well, most of the other well testing methods are based on unsteady flow. This did not suit the conditions of Daqing. Daqing had thousands of wells and now it has more than a hundred thousand of wells. And with so many wells, each has its own drainage area, and since each has its own drainage are you can’t call it an unlimited sized field anymore. And since you want to know what’s happening in this area you can’t use an unlimited time, which is you are getting to the edge of the field. You only want to know what is inside that drainage area, which is much smaller since we have a hundred thousand of wells. So, other pressure testing methods were not suitable. What we wanted to know at that time was the average pressure of the drainage area and parameters inside the drainage area. So this way, at that time developed a method using steady state flow and unsteady state flow as well. So, the steady state flow, you know, the average pressure and the … of the drainage area… With unsteady state flow you get the parameters that you need in the steady flow equation. <…> So you have to know these parameters and if you know that, you can calculate what you need inside that drainage area in the well. So, that’s what we did. Most methods do not calculate or consider the pressure of the drainage area. So we want to know what happens in each area, and if we have 10 thousand wells, we have 10 thousand pressures and then you get the average of the field. That’s what was different from other methods, they do not have the stable flow. We use both – the stable flow and unstable (or unsteady) flow. And as I said, it’s been used since 1961 in Daqing up to now for more than a million times on more than a hundred thousand wells and in China it’s been used also in modified forms. In some of our explorations wells we also use other methods, but that is only for exploration wells, not for the production ones.

Global Energy Association: You also pioneered the theory of that the viscoelasticity of polymers can increase the efficiency of oil displacement, and developed the world's leading chemical technology for enhanced oil recovery. How many millions of tons of oil has it accumulated? What amazing results have you achieved with it?

Demin Wang: … In 1980-s we saw that there were hundreds of methods of polymer flooding, but none were economically or commercially successful. So, at that time when we started it <…> The main reason why we were successful is that in chemical flooding (we call it polymer flooding now) people only considered increased viscosity, and with increased viscosity you get higher recovery, so most of the work was done in this field. And the recovery factor increased about 5-10% incremental oil. In our calculations it would not be economical, so we can’t commercially use it. Then we saw that not only viscosity will increase the recovery, and viscosity increases the performance of the polymer flood, but elasticity of the flue will increase the displacement efficiency. It’s because with these elastic flues, the flow lies inside the pore, which is different than using … Before all the calculations, even after you put polymers… All the flow lines will change and changing the flow lines will increase the displacement efficiency. And if we can use this phenomenon then incremental performance and displacement efficiency can increase. Our polymers use incremental viscosity and high viscosity. This method increased incremental oil by 12% and it was very economical. However, if we had it only on 5-7% it would not be incremental. From 1996 we use it in the large field in Daqing. Since we started using it on a commercial (industrial) scale, by the year 2000, the production got to around 10 million tons per year. And since that time till now it’s always been 20 million tons a year. We want to keep it at that scale. And from then on, this rose to first economical polymer flood in the world. And even now there are very few of them that are economical, and we’ve been using it for 25 years already. Besides that, we can increase 10 million tons per year and incremental is about 12%, and 12% from 5 billion tons will come to 6 billion tons. That’s for Daqing. In other fields in China, they are using it also, but since I work in Daqing I give the Daqing figures.

Global Energy Association: Thank you. I would also like to ask a question that interests millions of people around the world. How many years of oil is left in the world? What would happen if oil ran out? China is one of the countries actively developing renewables. Can solar and wind replace it when day X comes?

Demin Wang: So, to the previous question, fracture flooding was also considered, but since polymer flooding, Daqing is commercial on an industrial scale. Our recovery is quite high with a low cost. Our recovery is 10% OIP at a low cost. The amount of chemicals we use is several pounds lower than what is used in other parts of the world. And that’s been used in a large scale from 2005 and after that and we get around 10 million tons per year out of it. Since our incremental oil is around 20%, we can try to present 5 billion tons… That’s something that is only used in China and started in Daqing, not in other places of the world up to now. Very few have been published that are economically or commercially relevant. And to the other question you are asking, which is about renewable energy… of course renewable energy is good. We should use it on a much larger scale and we will be using it in much higher proportions and percentages. But I think it’s very hard to completely take the place of crude oil, gas, and coal. The reason is, let’s see. Speaking of energy needed for transportation, cars will be using it in the near future. But what about aircrafts? I think, it will be very difficult to use renewable energy in aircrafts. And maybe in large ocean cruisers it will be also very hard to use renewables. If the car goes into places that are very scarcely inhabited, like going to desert or some Arctic region, you don’t have recharging stations there. How will you charge it there? I am not saying it is impossible, but it will be very difficult. In other types of energy, you need it for heating and cooling. otherwise you can’t live in cold or hot areas. Of course, in places where you have electricity it’s very easy to get heating and cooling. But in many places, the sun energy, the wind energy, and the tidal energy coming from the ocean are very unstable. And the question of how to store such energy is not solved on the large scale. It will be hard to use in all places, especially in places that are scarcely inhabited. People have to use heating and cooling, otherwise they can’t live in difficult conditions. Let’s take the Arctic. How can you use it? You have no renewable energy there. And about chemicals…it’s a raw material, but there are a lot of products. Some of the properties of those products are much better than natural. Of course, natural products will still be used, but sometimes you need it, especially in all types of modern high tech, you need all these higher and much better properties. Like the durability, the ability to heat, magnetism – all of these are much better than any natural ones. All of these high tech things including our mobile phones, they need these high property chemical products. I don’t see how they can completely take their place. Of course, in some places you can use wood, cotton, any types of natural fibers, but that’s only in some conditions. In high tech, in harsh conditions, in conditions that are unique and special, you will still need these chemicals. So what I think is that in some areas you use more natural ones, in some areas you still have to use more of these. You can never completely take its place.

Global Energy Association: This leads us to the next question, which is the following. Getting fuel is the main, but not the only goal of oil production. Many other valuable and useful products that we use owe their origin to oil. If you take out of the house all the things that are produced involving refined products, then only bare walls will remain in the house. Even mobile phones consist of 40% of petrochemical products. So if we cheerfully stop producing oil one day, as green energy advocates say, what will we lose besides cosmetics, aspirin, plastic, and nylon?

Demin Wang: From what I see, most high tech products use petrochemicals and coal as raw materials. If you don’t use it, then I don’t see how you can do it. Like, take the planes. I can’t see how you can take all the plastic and chemical products out of it. I think it will be impossible for many things like mobile phones, rockets or weapons to use only natural products, because the properties of natural materials are not high enough. Some properties of chemical products can be much higher. Otherwise, I don’t know how it can be done. In some areas, wood, cotton, and other natural materials will be used, in other areas more chemical products will be used.

Global Energy Association: Thank you very much for this interview, Prof Wang, and best of luck to you with your future projects!

Demin Wang: Thank you very much for the interview.

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