Groundbreaking applied research by a team at UWA into the applied physics of magnetic resonance and the resulting application to the oil and gas sector is another example of how research industry business models are creating tangible results.
To most of us MRI is an expensive diagnostic technique we encounter following a trip to the doctors. The underlying physics of magnetic resonance however has a much broader range of potential applications.
The Fluid Science and Resources Laboratory at UWA conducts applied research aimed at advancing knowledge, maximising the value of resources produced, and minimising the environmental impact of their production.
Prior to his UWA arrival in 2011, Professor Johns led a research group at the University of Cambridge, UK, that successfully development magnetic resonance techniques for a range of industrial applications, most prominently to determine the droplet size distribution of emulsions.
The research was funded and widely adopted by a broad range of industries for quality control purposes: Unilever and Nestle for food emulsions; P&G for personal care products; Syngenta for agrochemicals; and BP for oilfield emulsions.
Magnetic Resonance is not cheap however! One novel way to drive this price down is to exploit the magnet that we can all access for free – the Earth’s Magnetic Field.
At UWA, Professor Johns and colleagues have developed and applied the use of the Earth’s magnetic field – a methodology labelled EFNMR - for a number of different applications.
"These include to size emulsions from oilfields across WA, opaque fluids for which no alternative exists, and to detect oil contamination in discharge water, a project which has been funded by Chevron," explained Professor Johns.
"The technology has also been used to detect the onset of fouling in Reverse Osmosis Membrane (ROM) modules as used for water desalination, an order of magnitude faster than using conventional methods, which has been funded by Wetsus in the Netherlands."
Professor Johns said the team is currently engaged in adapting the technology to provide an intrinsically safe multi-phase flow meter (a ~$450 million per annum industry with only a 0.3% potential market penetration) for the oil and gas industry that measures phase flow and composition in a completely non-invasive manner.
Caption: A younger and then Dr. Johns resorts to his Cambridge backyard to find a comparatively (electrical) noise free environment for EFNMR development.