UT Researchers to Play Role in Energizing India

AUSTIN, Texas — Engineers from The University of Texas at Austin have signed a $5 million partnership agreement over 10 years with India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation. This new international collaboration will allow Cockrell School of Engineering researchers to share their specialized expertise with people on the ground in India to improve and fortify India’s domestic energy industries and, ultimately, lead to greater self-sufficiency.   

Despite the fact that India has significant oil and gas reserves of its own, some experts suggest that 75 percent have yet to be discovered. As a result, the country is currently importing approximately 80 percent of its energy needs to meet growing demand.

Texas Engineers will work alongside engineers at the Institute for Reservoir Studies of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, the nation’s state-owned energy supplier, by sharing their expertise and technology to maximize oil extraction so that the nation can further benefit from its own natural resources. In the long-term, this expertise could help liberate India’s economy from an overreliance on imported energy.

Led by Kishore Mohanty — professor in the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering and director of the Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at UT Austin — the UT research team (including Gary Pope and Upali Weerasooriya) will collaborate with Indian energy leaders to introduce and maximize an enhanced oil recovery process known as alkaline-surfactant-polymer flooding. The UT research team is a global authority in this method that can extract almost all the oil in the swept reservoir.  

Enhanced oil recovery techniques vary considerably, depending on the materials used and the approach taken. And while it may not be the most common method for oil extraction, it has proven to be one of the most efficient.

“Water flooding is one of the cheapest ways of extracting oil,” Mohanty said. “It is not very efficient though. Roughly 20 percent to 40 percent of oil can be recovered successfully using water flooding, which means you are leaving a minimum of 60 percent of your oil behind.”

There are a variety of enhanced oil recovery techniques in use today — for instance, gas and thermal recovery are some examples — but they are applicable to specific reservoirs, e.g., deep reservoirs and viscous oil, respectively. Surfactant-polymer flooding is more flexible and can apply to a variety of reservoirs.

“Surfactants act like detergents, meaning oil can be extracted anywhere the floods reach,” Mohanty said. 

Texas Engineers will share their expertise with their Indian counterparts so that they can develop their own indigenous skill set in alkaline-surfactant-polymer flooding.     

The potential economic benefits to a country such as India - where current demand for energy is insatiable – are substantial.