Pedro Fernández
Vice President
DuPont Americas

Enzymes Key for Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 16:36

One of the factors that define DuPont is the continuous transformation of the company through innovation, and the company’s two most recent acquisitions support this philosophy. “The acquisition of the large food corporate Danisco, specialized in enzyme technology, provides us with the right biotechnological know-how to complement our work in the oil and gas sector,” enthuses Pedro Fernández, Vice President of DuPont Americas. DuPont successfully combined biotechnology and oil and gas to create a set of enzymes that helps in the tertiary stage of oil recovery, the result of which is called Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR). The enzymes can work in a wide range of oil fields with different geology and compositions to extract oil from the rocks whilst time blocking water from leaking out, thus increasing the pressure in the oil field. The enzymes are processed by the oil, which is recovered with zero environmental damage. The solutions are tailored to the needs of each field, as the enzymes are designed to take into account factors such as oil type, geological composition and temperature. “Our MEOR solution is more cost-efficient and sustainable since it can extract oil from complex environments with no environmental footprint. It also offers the advantage of not requiring large shipments of equipment to set it up as everything fits in a large truck. MEOR is still an embryonic technology. Only three companies use it worldwide, including PEMEX, which has already shown a great interest in this technology for its oldest fields.” The second acquisition was a company called CleanTech. “We acquired a whole new set of technologies and equipment for cleaner operations in refineries, which includes sulfuric acid management for example. This acquisition will help us work with clients to allow them to operate within the more stringent environmental standards framework. It will also create room for improvement for leaders in energy efficiency.”

Despite PEMEX being at the cutting edge of EOR technology, Fernández believes it still needs to undergo a change in culture in terms of safety. “We started safety consulting with PEMEX almost 17 years ago. The first step is understanding that safety is an operational must and has to be implemented from the top down, starting with the CEO. Once you take ownership, responsibility, and accountability, then you can start cascading down throughout the organization. Once you have safety as a foundation it is much easier to achieve operational excellence.” DuPont is focused on using its portfolio of solutions to help PEMEX to become a more competitive enterprise in general by making substantial contributions to improving efficiency, productivity, and cost effectiveness. This has been reflected in the Energy Reform, which will put a lot more pressure on PEMEX to be more efficient and raise safety performance as the company transforms into a productive enterprise of the state. “In the area of employee and process safety there is a growing need for operational excellence, which implies better maintenance of plants, more efficient use of capital and projects, energy efficiency, and sustainability. These are the four pillars for operational excellence,” says Fernández. “Within our engagements with PEMEX, we are now expanding into safety, starting with the improvement of current processes as a foundation.”

DuPont is also working with PEMEX Refining on improving output by running a smoother and safer operation. “How to run the refinery is where we come in, once the technology has been implemented. We look at productivity and uptime, which involves analyzing the quality of the workforce. PEMEX is well below global standards in refining, reaching a productivity level of around 60% while the global average is around 80%. This creates an opportunity for DuPont to help PEMEX improve the way it looks at and operate technology.” Fernández points out that DuPont can increase output by 35% in refineries, through rethinking how to carry out maintenance and processing, and how to handle energy efficiency. “This all goes straight to the bottom line without the need for major investment. We reckon we can help PEMEX reach the top quartile of refineries in the next three years, and put it within touching distance of the top within eight years, which would mean a 50% increase in output.” 

After his company has operated for 90 years in Mexico, and having helped PEMEX to implement the Safety, Health and Environment (SSPA) policy across its four divisions, DuPont’s Fernández can now confidently sate that “PEMEX will be the first company in the world to have a fully integrated SSPA system.”