A research team at the University of British Columbia is pioneering a water treatment technology for gas extraction that could significantly reduce the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing.
Advanced dialysis cells developed at UBC use excess carbon dioxide to desalinate waste water for reuse and also produce hydrochloric acid and carbonate salts as by-products on site, which are used in fracking and would otherwise have to be purchased and transported long distances, said Alfred Lam, who was a project member during his doctoral studies.
Hydraulic fracturing – popularly known as fracking – involves injecting large amounts of water, grit and chemicals into gas and oil wells under high pressure to fracture the rock and release natural gas.
When the pressure is released, millions of litres of contaminated, briny water backflows out of the well and must be treated, said Lam, who is helping shepherd the project as an adviser for Vancouver-based Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, which specialises in early-stage clean energy projects. Waste carbon dioxide is produced by gas flaring and the operation of generators at well sites.