Computer model may lead to greater heavy oil recovery and reduce environmental impact

By Costa Maragos Posted: November 23, 2017 2:00 p.m.

Qingwang Yuan (centre), a U of R postdoctoral fellow in petroleum systems engineering, is presented with the Mitacs Postdoctoral Award for Outstanding Innovation from Dr. David Malloy (l) Vice-President (Research) at the U of R and Dr. Mona Nemer (r), Canada’s Chief Science Advisor.
Qingwang Yuan (centre), a U of R postdoctoral fellow in petroleum systems engineering, is presented with the Mitacs Postdoctoral Award for Outstanding Innovation from Dr. David Malloy (l) Vice-President (Research) at the U of R and Dr. Mona Nemer (r), Canada’s Chief Science Advisor. Photo courtesy of Mitacs

Extracting highly viscous heavy oil can be a costly business for energy companies—in terms of time and money.

Qingwang Yuan, a postdoctoral fellow in petroleum systems engineering at the University of Regina’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, has developed a software program that can be used to optimize the process of extracting heavy oil from the ground. Based on current lab test results, the recovery of that heavy oil can be increased up to 30 per cent.

The project is part of Yuan’s Mitacs fellowship with the Saskatchewan Research Council. This work has earned Yuan the Mitacs Postdoctoral Award for Oustanding Innovation at a ceremony held at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa November 21.

“I am very happy and excited to receive this honour,” says Yuan. “It is recognition of the effort and contributions of my research. For another, this award also brings reputation to the U of R and my industrial partner, the Saskatchewan Research Council.”

Mitacs Side Photo
Qingwang Yuan credits collaboration with the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) for his innovation award. (l-r) Kelvin Knorr, Research Operations Manager at SRC Energy Division; Muhammad Imran, Business Unit Manager, SRC Energy Division; Qingwang Yuan and Dr. Fanhua Zeng, Professor and Program Chair – Petroleum Systems Engineering. U of R Photography

Presented by Dr. David Malloy, Vice-President (Research) at the University of Regina, the award recognizes a postdoctoral fellow who has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation while participating in a Mitacs-funded program. Yuan was one of five Mitacs award winners nationally.

The event was also attended by Kristy Duncan, Federal Minister of Science, and Navdeep Bains, Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Mitacs is a national not-for-profit organization that brings together companies, government and universities to promote innovative research and training.

“These award winners represent some of the best and brightest minds across our country whose work is at the leading edge of their respective fields, and Mitacs is honoured to provide a platform to help bring their research to fruition,” says Alejandro Adem, Chief Executive Officer at Mitacs.

The award-winning research centres around a program applies novel mathematical equations and algorithms to accurately simulate what’s happening when solvent meets heavy oil.

The use of solvent, rather than water or steam which can leave significant amounts of oil in the ground, allows oil companies to recover the most oil possible from large reservoirs--with an added bonus.

“Based on this model, we can conduct a more accurate simulation and design of the current oil recovery process, to achieve a greater oil recovery and reduce the environmental impact,” says Yuan, who has worked under the supervision of Dr. Fanhua (Bill) Zeng, Professor and Program Chair of Petroleum Systems Engineering.
 
Yuan’s innovative research may provide oil companies with the information they need to make the recovery process more efficient and cost effective.

“Yuan is a very hard-working, smart and dedicated young researcher. He worked very closely with our research team and demonstrated excellent research skills,” says Zeng. “His research results have been well recognized by researchers from different disciplines. We have received many requests for his research papers and results. This recognition will inspire and motivate our graduate students and Post-doc fellows to conduct first-class researches.

Yuan, from Shandong Province, China, attended the China University of Petroleum (East China) where he earned bachelor’s degrees in Petroleum Engineering and Business Administration, as well a master’s degree in Oil and Gas Production Engineering. Yuan completed his PhD in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Calgary.

While in Regina, Yuan closely collaborated with a team at the Saskatchewan Research Council.

“The collaboration was excellent. I think it is important for provincial organizations, both SRC and the University of Regina, to have a good collaboration,” says Kelvin Knorr, Research Operations Manager at the Saskatchewan Research Council’s Energy Division.

Yuan now has the opportunity to showcase his research on a much larger stage.

He has accepted a post-doctoral position at Stanford University where he will focus his work on shale oil and shale gas production.

The research teams at the U of R and the Saskatchewan Research Council will continue to advance Yuan’s work.