An invention born out of the golf industry and first tested in a jam jar has caught the interest of major oil and gas companies.
UPTAKE™ - developed in the north east of Scotland by father and son team John and Andrew Burns - is a groundbreaking fluid that has the ability to suspend and carry solid and liquid particles such as oil, gravel and sand.
ITF, the technology facilitator for the global oil and gas industry, has recently concluded a proof-of-concept study along with member companies including BP and Weatherford, who see huge potential for UPTAKE for clearing restrictions in pipelines around the world. Mr Burns, who started the company Golf Range Products Ltd in 2008 developed the fluid for use in the production of golf mats. Primarily for use at driving ranges in Asia, the unique mats incorporate soil and sand to give an authentic divot.
Shortly after developing the liquid, he noticed that at a certain concentration, it had the ability to lift the sand in the mats and hold it in suspension. With a background in chemistry, the inventor soon started thinking about other possible applications for the liquid.
Mr Burns explained: “The first experiments were carried out in jam jars containing sand where I mixed equal amounts of water with the UPTAKE solution and we found that it instantly lifted the sand and held it in suspension. Further experiments have found it can suspend and carry hydrocarbons, sand and even gravel and wax.”
Mr Burns was confident that there would be an application for UPTAKE within the oil and gas industry, so set up a new company Pipeline Cleaning Solutions Ltd based in Keith, Moray and approached ITF.
His proposal received £70,000 from ITF members including investment from ITF’s Pioneer Fund, which deals specifically with early stage feasibility studies.
David Liddle, strategic technology director of ITF said: “UPTAKE is one of the most unusual and exciting cross-over projects from another industry that we have been involved in and it certainly caught the interest of our members. The early stage tests have shown very promising results and we are expecting to soon progress a new funding application for a full field test to bring the technology to market.”
On securing the first phase funding earlier this year, Mr Burns built an intricate test pipeline and filmed the amazing results of clearing sand, gravel and oil using the UPTAKE solution, which flushed out the debris. The funding also covered independent testing through Intertek and a report submitted to ITF and the sponsoring oil companies with detailed analysis.
Mr Burns believes that in addition to pipelines, the fluid may have potential with small and larger bore pipework, tanks and separators, as well as downhole and could offer a number of benefits in comparison to existing solutions.
He continues: “UPTAKE has solid carrying capacity that is two and a half to three times that of gels currently used for this purpose, but is much less viscous and so requires less energy to pump. It also has a wider operating range in terms of pH and temperature than other chemical cleaners and carriers. UPTAKE could also have benefits for cleaning tanks. The fluid could be pumped into a closed tank; any material would be suspended and could then be pumped out. For the decommissioning of open tanks, the fluid could be used to thoroughly clean an oily, dirty tank.”
Aberdeen headquartered ITF is owned by 28 of some of the largest oil and gas operators and service companies in the world. Through the unique collaboration model, ITF’s members spread the risk and costs to offer up to 100% funding for developing new technologies. A major benefit is that developers retain their full intellectual property rights and get direct access to their target market.
Mr Burns said: “Having the support of major oil and gas companies through ITF has been fantastic and we are very excited about what the future can hold for us. We are planning a second phase of development later this year to carry out further, extensive field trials to ultimately commercialise UPTAKE. We believe this technology has the ability to transform conventional methods of cleaning offshore pipelines that have been clogged with debris."