Justin Cave (2014 WKU new graduate student #WKUGRF
) working with Dr. Celestian wins a Graduate Research Fellowship! Congratulations Justin!
The main goal of his project is to develop and characterize new materials at WKU for advanced oil separation/refinement, which will ultimately lead to better usage of Kentucky’s natural energy resources.
Nanoporous materials have a long and important history in petroleum sciences, and shockingly, much of the material used in crude oil refinement has not changed appreciably (incremental advancements aside) in the last 40 years. The increasing costs of producing refinement materials and the processing of non-conventional resources (natural tar and other high viscosity petroleum) choke the refinement process, which leads to inefficiency, decreased recovery, and increased expenses by volume.
Much of Kentucky’s non-conventional crude is locked in near-surface tar sandstones. Besides being difficult to separate the tar from the sand, these tar sands are also a significant source of groundwater pollution in Kentucky. Currently these natural deposits have been treated as environmental contaminants. There is good reason for this – much of the oil reservoir contains toxic aromatic compounds and heavy metals (such as vanadium and nickel, both have long lists of adverse health effects), and these toxins are easily leached by ground water flow.
The M.S. research of Mr. Cave will therefore have two linked parts. The first will be to develop an inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and energy-efficient material to transform Kentucky’s heavy crude into a more unusable and valuable commodity. The second will be to apply these same, or related, materials to environmental remediation of regions where tar sands are present.