Chevron develops energy system innovations from hydrofracking to biomass

By Steve Brachmann
February 13, 2015

ChevronThe Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX) of San Ramon, CA, is a multinational corporation with a wide range of business activities in the oil, gas and geothermal energy industries. Lubricants, fuels, additives and petrochemicals are among the company’s main products.

Chevron pioneers many innovations in energy systems and related fields and in recent years has focused on ocean bottom sensing tech for deepwater fields, waterflood surveillance data tools for oilfields as well as heavy-duty engine oils. The company also supports technology developments pursued by open innovation initiatives like the Cleantech Open, a clean technology innovation and small-business development organization of which Chevron is a global member. In 2013, the corporation posted expenditures of $685 million on other exploration expenses, which includes R&D spending.

Chevron 2014 Text ClusterLower prices for oil have recently affected the fortunes of America’s 2nd-largest energy company, which only trails behind ExxonMobil. The company’s recent earnings report for 2014’s fourth quarter indicated a year-on-year decline on earnings per share by about 28 percent, or $1.85 per share, even though the company beat its earnings estimate. The leaner financial situation for the company has forced it to drop some exploratory ventures in Canadian liquefied natural gas and shale gas exploration in Poland. Chevron has also cut its capital project spending budget by more than $5 billion, from $40.3 billion in 2014 to an expected $35 billion this year.

With 148 U.S. patents granted in 2013 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Chevron was 200th overall among all entities seeking U.S. patents. Throughout 2014, a great deal of the company’s research and development was focused on oil compositions, slurry catalysts and heavy metals (including innovations relating to crude oil). The Innography text cluster diagram above shows Chevron’s U.S. patent focus for 2014 patents.

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Chevron’s Issued Patents: From Renewable Chemical Feedstocks to Power Generation in Subsea Oil Extraction

Patents issued to Chevron in recent weeks showcase a focus on developing alternative forms of energy and petrochemical products that do not utilize finite fossil fuel sources. The conversion of renewable materials into chemical products for use in fuels, lubricants and more is described within U.S. Patent No. 884077, which is titled Hydroconversion of Renewable Feedstocks. The hydrocarbon conversion process protected by this patent involves contacting a renewable feedstock with a bulk catalyst under high-temperature, high-pressure hydroprocessing conditions to form an effluent and recovering an aliphatic monoester. This innovative process is useful for the production of oleochemicals like fatty alcohols and paraffins to replace petroleum-based materials in certain manufacturing processes. Improved processes for hydrogen generation plants utilizing steam methane reformers are the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8926941, entitled Capture of CO2 From Hydrogen Plants Using a Temperature Swing Adsorption Method. The patent claims a process of producing substantially pure CO2 for sequestration or enhanced oil recovery and substantially pure hydrogen for use as a fuel in a steam methane reformer furnace or as a feed source for other hydrocarbon petrochemical reactions; the process involves the use of a temperature swing adsorption unit. The invention is intended to increase pure hydrogen production while reducing the carbon dioxide emissions of steam methane reforming and auto thermal reforming plants.

The extraction of oil from shale has become an area of increased activity for energy developers as an alternative to traditional oil reserves, which are being outpaced by oil demand. U.S. Patent No. 8936089, which is titled In-Situ Kerogen Conversion and Recovery, discusses treatments to kerogen, an organic component of oil shale, which convert that substance into oil and gas while being simpler and more cost-effective than conventional methods. The patent claims a process for extracting a kerogen-based product from a subsurface shale formation by providing an oxidant to kerogen within the shale, contacting the shale with the oxidant at temperatures ranging from 0°C to 200°C to form organic acids and mobilizing the organic acids from the shale formation to produce a mobile kerogen-based product.

diagnosing problemsConventional oil and gas extraction were discussed by a pair of patents that we noted today. Techniques for increasing safety and efficiency in oil field production is at the center of U.S. Patent No. 8914267, which is titled Systems and Methods for Diagnosing Production Problems in Oil Field Operations. The method claimed here involves displaying an oil field diagnosis process flow chart in a master schedule visualizer on a first video monitor, choosing a selectable object indicating degradation of well performance, displaying reports on selectable objects on additional video monitors, displaying problem oil wells on an oil field map and visually identifying any commonalities among the displayed problem oil wells. This technology is designed to improve communication and collaboration between departments during oil field production processes without the time-consuming manual updating of work schedules for simultaneous operations. A technology for providing power for oil well production in subsea environments is discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8904792, entitled Method and System for Storing Energy and Generating Power Heat in a Subsea Environment. The system for generating power in a subsea environment subsea environmentincludes a compressed air storage chamber located on the ocean floor and in fluid communication with a compressed air source, an outer shell on the ocean floor enclosing a portion of the compressed air storage chamber, an engine on the ocean floor with an inlet in fluid communication with the compressed air storage chamber, an exhaust line in fluid communication with the engine at a vertical position between the engine and water surface and a produced fluids production line. This solution is much more cost-effective than running long subsea power cables to oil and gas extraction equipment.

We also noted analytical tools for the determination of the chemical properties of certain rock formations that were disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8902711, which is titled System and Method for Analyzing and Transforming Geophysical and Petrophysical Data. The computer implemented method claimed here involves accessing input data of a geological volume of interest in a subterranean formation, processing input data using multiple subterranean interpretation models for deriving petrophysical or geophysical properties and comparing data output for the models to determine the characteristics of the geological volume of interest. This innovation is designed to reconcile the use of different software programs for analyzing petrophysical characteristics, which often speak different languages in terms of volumetric analysis.

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Patent Applications of Note: Subsea Equipment Deployment, Hydrofracking and Bio-Oils From Biomass

subsea deploymentSubsea drilling operations were also apparent when scoping out the recently filed patent applications of Chevron. Methods of transporting the requisite equipment to the floor of the ocean would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20150027717, which is titled Process for Subsea Deployment of Drilling Equipment. The patent application claims a process for deployment of drilling equipment through a moon pool of a drilling vessel by suspending a mudlift pump in line with a lower marine riser package, the two of which are coupled by a connection mechanism. The system is meant to reduce time consumed by equipment deployment procedures as rig time for modern drilling vessels can cost close to $1 million per day.

Technologies to improve hydrofracking processes and byproducts are featured in a few other patent applications which crossed our eyes today. More effective planning systems for creating hydrofracking networks with increased drainage volume would be supported by the technology in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140358510, entitled System and Method for Characterizing Uncertainty in Subterranean Reservoir Fracture Networks. This patent application would protect a computer-implemented method that involves obtaining a natural fracture model of a subsurface region of interest, obtaining dynamic field data relating to that subsurface region, simulating hydraulic fracturing and microseismic events based on that data and generating a stimulated reservoir volume based on simulated microseismic events. The removal of catalyst contaminants from hydrofracking fluids is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140348729, filed under the title Process for Separating and Recovering Metals. The method for recovering metals from a spent catalyst claimed here involves leaching Group VIB, Group VIII and Group VB metals from the spent catalyst with an ammonia to form a pressure leach slurry, removing a solid residue from the slurry comprised of Group VIB and Group VIII metal soluble complexes and treating that pressure leach solution by chemical precipitation. This invention reflects attempts at protecting environmental locations from metal contaminants while capitalizing on the increased demand and market price of certain metals.

We also noted a couple of data analysis systems designed to remove uncertainties associated with utilizing resources from subterranean reservoirs. The ability to better understand the qualities of sandstone formations, specifically their porosity, is outlined by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140379262, which is titled Method of Quantifying Hydrothermal Impact. The method of quantifying hydrothermal impact on a stratigraphic unit that would be protected involves receiving data indicative of the stratigraphic unit’s reservoir temperature and trapping temperatures associated with a plurality of fluid incisions in a stratigraphic unit sample and generating comparison data that helps to obtain an impact parameter for a hydrothermal impact. This system is designed to better understand quartz cement distributions in sandstone, which is an important factor of porosity which is affected by thermal exposure. A remaining resourcetool for understanding the remaining resources of a reservoir to better inform production processes is featured within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150032377, filed under the title System and Method for Remaining Resource Mapping. The method claimed here involves generating a pressure depletion map of a subsurface reservoir based on a dataset representing pressure change over time, obtaining a hydrocarbon pore thickness map of the subsurface reservoir and using the two maps to generate a remaining resource map of the subsurface reservoir. This invention improves on conventional resource production simulation programs by reducing the high computing cost of the simulation.

An innovation for the detection of mercury compounds in gas, crude oil or water is the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140371105, titled Mercury Sensor for Detecting, Differentiating, and Measuring Organic and Inorganic Mercury Compounds. The sensor assembly for measuring mercury analytes in a fluid stream includes a housing containing the sensor assembly, a sensor array that detects and measures mercury analytes to output a signal indicative of the type and concentration of mercury analytes detected, an inlet channel and outlet channel for bringing a sample through the housing and a sampler located within the housing. This invention allows for the detection of mercury compounds at incredibly small amounts, such as one microgram per cubic meter (1 µg/m3).

Renewable energy sources were discussed in at least one patent application that we were able to find in our latest survey of Chevron’s innovations. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140371496, entitled Solvent-Enhanced Biomass Liquefaction, would protect a process for liquefaction of biomass involving combining the biomass with a solvent combination containing at least one liquefaction solvent to form a liquefaction mixture and heating the mixture to a temperature of 200°C under pressure of at least 200 pounds per square inch to generate a liquid crude bio-oil product. The innovative process results in a bio-oil which is suitable for fuel or feedstock processing, including vehicle fuels, without the high cost of certain pretreatment methods.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

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There are currently 2 Comments comments.

  1. William Roy Whiteway Smallwood August 5, 2015 11:59 am

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  2. William Roy Whiteway Smallwood August 5, 2015 12:11 pm

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