Petroleum Development Oman’s (PDO) award-winning Reed Beds Plant in Nimr in the southeast of the country could potentially yield enough biomass to run a small-scale power generation project, according to the company’s Managing Director. Raoul Restucci said a biofuel project using harvested reeds as biomass is one of several spinoff opportunities linked to the Nimr project that are currently under study by PDO in partnership with a number of local and international research organisations.
Speaking to the Observer soon after the inauguration of the Reed Beds Project yesterday, Restucci said the company will initially be looking at a pilot-scale biofuel plant before firming up any plans for a commercial-scale power generation facility. Launched towards the end of 2010, the Reed Beds Project has been hailed as a technological breakthrough in the successful management of the massive volumes of contaminated water produced along with crude oil during oilfield operations.
At present, around eight barrels of saline, oil-contaminated water are produced along with every barrel of oil. This volume is expected to rise phenomenally over the next decade, posing a huge and costly challenge for PDO in its safe and cost-effective disposal. uge reed bed farms established in the parched desert near Nimr currently process around 45,000 cubic metres of produced water per day. This is projected to rise to 95,000 m3/day when Phase 2 of the Nimr project is commissioned by the end of October. Both phases will contribute significant volumes of biomass for a potential bio-fuel venture, says Restucci.
“At the moment we are generating about 9,600 tonnes of biofuel matter by harvesting the reeds. But for a biofuel project we will need about 20,000 tonnes. So, in addition to the expansion, we are also looking at what else we can add to it, so incorporating it into the expansion, we’re looking at what else we can add to it – for example, surplus or waste food from the Public Accommodation Camps (PAC). Can we take those wastes, combine it with the harvested reeds and develop that? While those plans are ongoing, there are a lot of studies ongoing as well. So it’s still early days, but there is a great opportunity to extend this circle of efficient energy utilisation,” Restucci said.
Furthermore, as a project that contributes significantly to energy efficiency, the reed beds venture has the potential to generate substantial carbon credits for PDO, Restucci said. Together with partner Bauer of Germany, specialists in water technologies, PDO is evaluating opportunities to secure carbon credits against the project. “The value side (of the project) is under assessment. With the completion of Phase 2, we will have the summation of all the savings in terms of gas, in terms of all the better utilisation of energy, and then we will be able to better assess what those credits are. But there is no doubt that these will feature highly in that respect,” the Managing Director said.
Under a deal signed by PDO in 2009, Bauer’s local subsidiary Bauer Nimr has been contracted to build and manage the Nimr Reed Beds Project for a period of 20 years. According to Alexander Ditmar, Managing Director of Bauer Nimr, the company also sees potential to extract salt from the produced water for use in drilling and other industrial applications. Together with Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) and Utrecht University of The Netherlands, PDO is exploring the possibility of filtering the produced water for potential use in farming and desert irrigation.
“Can we filter the water at the evaporation pond stage perhaps through algae or other technologies to remove the salinity and then use it for greenhouse irrigation purposes? can we take the final clean water, eliminate the salinity, and rather than let it evaporate, use the clean water for the next stage. This water could then be used to develop a few specialist crops such as cotton farms or certain types of trees that can absorb high salinity water, or a greenhouse type of project. Studies are ongoing in this regard and we are working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on this front,” Restucci said. PDO is also working with SQU and a Japanese consortium to find ways to deal with highly saline water produced in the north of its Block 6 concession. According to the Managing Director, produced water is projected to rise to 14 barrels per every barrel of crude oil output within the next decade.