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Staff Accomplishments

Physical Chemist Carlos Fernandez's Team Wins IChemE Global Award

Non-toxic fluid reduces water use in traditional fracking methods and increases potential for geothermal power

December 2015
Carlos Fernandez

PNNL physical chemist Carlos Fernandez and his team were awarded a 2015 Global Award by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) for their efforts in developing a non-toxic stimuli-responsive hydraulic fracturing fluid. The PNNL-developed technology was selected by team of IChemE judges from over 100 shortlist entries, beating out a record-breaking number of applicants (nearly 500) from over 40 countries.

Fernandez, who was unable to attend the November banquet, accepted the Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chemical and Process Engineering via video. Because the fluid expands in the presence of carbon dioxide, it is more environmentally friendly and less energy intensive compared to traditional fracking methods. The fluid provides a path for traditional shale gas and tight oil production to be greener, but more importantly, it is key to capturing the natural heat from the earth's core to generate electricity. When the non-toxic solution is pumped underground, it expands to create tiny cracks in underground rock that can be used to capture heat that can be converted to electricity.

Fernandez' research, which was covered in a recent PNNL news release, is under consideration for site-testing as part of DOE's FORGE project (Newberry site). In April, a team lead by PNNL was chosen by the DOE to develop plans for a potential geothermal field laboratory on the northwest side of Newberry Volcano near La Pine, Oregon. The observatory will allow researchers and developers to carefully test more efficient, less costly and innovative ways to extract underground heat where conventional geothermal power generation isn’t possible.


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