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The vast reserves of shale oil within the continental US and on our coasts represent opportunities for huge economic growth and energy independence. There are at least one hundred years of estimated natural gas reserves in this country. If these are tapped, the US could reduce its foreign oil importers and perhaps become a net exporter of natural gas. The CUNY Energy Institute is currently conducting research to facilitate these goals. Our liquid separation lab seeks to improve the extraction process and make it more environmentally friendly, as well as to improve the efficiency of traditional fossil fuel processing.

Principally, our oil and gas research is focused on the mechanisms governing water droplet coalescence, which impact the amount of time it takes to purify recovered oil. The rate-limiting step in oil processing is often the separation of the oil-water emulsion. Since finer droplet emulsions exhibit prolonged separation times compared to denser droplet emulsions, we can improve the separation rate by encouraging coalescence of the water particles. In general, there are surface active species (asphaltenes and resins) that adsorb at the oil-water interface and form films that prevent coalescence. We can “break” these interfacial films through physical (fluid mechanics) and chemical (demulsifiers) means. Once the films are “broken,” the water droplets can form more easily and separate from the mixture, resulting in a purer hydrocarbon product. Due to its practical applications, this research is of direct interest to the oil and gas industry.

The director of the CUNY Energy Institute, Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee, is a member of the Reference Board of the Norwegian Govt.-Oil Industry Consortium for Oil-Gas Flow Assurance Project and has consulted for several major oil companies, including ExxonMobile, Shell, Statoil, Det Norske Veritas, Reliance, and ENI. Dr. Banerjee has expertise in technical and operational issues, as well as high-level due diligence related to acquisitions and projects. In addition, Dr. Banergee helped to establish Gas Reaction Technologies Inc, which uses novel metal oxide catalysts to convert natural gas to a variety of liquid products, including gasoline and benzene/toluene/xylene. GRT was recently acquired by a major oil company.

The chairman of the chemical engineering department at the City College of New York and Herbert G. Kayser Professor, Dr. Alexander Couzis, has extensive facilities for oil & gas systems and co-sponsors the PhD students in this area. His research interests include surface engineering, templated crystallization, biosensors, surfactant facilitated wetting of hydrophobic surfaces.