We continue to monitor patent literature for water and liquid treatment technologies related to hydraulic fracturing (see our October 7, 2012 blog entry, for example). We did not see as many granted patents in 2010 and 2011 compared to 2012 (likely a trend reflecting the increased importance of hydraulic fracturing in recent years). One exception was US Patent No. 7,722,770 granted May 25, 2010 (the listed assignee is Anticline Disposal, LLC). Anticline now has five granted patents, best we can tell (8,105,488; 7,722,770; 7,628,919; 7,527,736; and 7,510,656). The processes appear to link to nanotechnology via nanofiltration and reverse osmosis. See also this link. Nanotechnology continues to be a prominent theme in new hydraulic fracturing technologies although many of these nano-HF patent filings are not included in the 977 nanotechnology patent class.
For the Anticline ’770 patent, the abstract indicates:
ABSTRACT: Systems and methods have been developed for treating the waste water contaminated with methanol and boron in addition to other contaminants. The systems and methods allow specifically for the removal of the methanol and boron without the addition of significant chemicals to raise the pH. The water is treated by removing the methanol via biological digestion in a bioreactor, separating a majority of the contaminants from the water by reverse osmosis and removing the boron that passes through the reverse osmosis system with a boron-removing ion exchange resin.
We continue to monitor patent literature for water and liquid treatment technologies related to hydraulic fracturing. This technology is especially important for western Pennsylvania, the center of the Marcellus Shale region. Yesterday, for example, I listened to a speech by Carnegie Mellon University’s president, which stressed the importance of this technology. CMU has a new energy center which will include work in this area. CMU has also published a research guide on hydraulic fracturing.
Recent patents in 2012 which relate directly or indirectly to this subject include 8,273,320 (FracPure Holdings); 8,226,832 (NCH Ecoservices); 8,211,296 (NCH Ecoservices); 8,171,993 (Heat On-the-Fly); 8,158,097 (FracPure Holdings); 8,119,007 (MIT); 8,110,115 (Ibex); 8,105,488 (Anticline Disposal); 8,105,492 (Baker Hughes); and 8,132,632 (ConocoPhillips).
Integrated Water Technologies has an interesting, lengthy video which summarizes the FracPure process. The process includes the water supply, water treatment, and extracting solids from the treated waters.
Congratulations to Carnegie Mellon University for breaking ground on a new energy/nanotech-related building last weekend, as they report on their university webpage:
“Under sunny skies that were later punctuated with daytime pyrotechnics, the excitement was palpable as Carnegie Mellon University broke ground for Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott Hall — future home to the university’s work in nanotechnology, biomedical engineering and the new Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation.”
Located in western Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon also addressed issues during the ground breaking events about how to handle shale gas and water:
Presenting the four top energy topics voted on by the audience were CMU’s:
- Jeanne VanBriesen, Shale gas development: what’s the story with water?
- Baruch Fischhoff, How will human behavior affect energy futures?
- Ed Rubin, Clean coal: oxymoron, or path to sustainability?
- Jay Whitacre, Can low cost batteries help us to use more renewables and build fewer transmission lines?
Patent filings which refer to hydraulic fracturing are on the rise. In fact, the number appears to have almost doubled in the past five years. This is based on a review of the published patent applications at the USPTO web site. In 2012, pro-rated as of today, there should be about 473 patent applications publishing. In 2007, that number was only 246. From 2008-2010, the number rose to about 355 each year, and then rose dramatically in 2011 to 421.
Nanotechnology continues to be a source of innovation in this and related technologies. See, for example, Abstract below US Patent Publication 2012/0190598 published July 26, 2012 to Pure Liquid Solutions, LLC, on “Metallic Nanoparticle Biocide in Industrial Applications.”
AbstractA method includes providing and adding a measured dose amount of manufactured metallic nanoparticle material to a carrier material for pre-treatment of the carrier material prior to use of the carrier material and the manufactured metallic nanoparticle material in the sub-surface earth activity. Another method includes accessing a sub-surface earth opening used with a sub-surface earth activity, introducing an amount of manufactured metallic nanoparticle material into the sub-surface earth opening, and treating a sub-surface earth condition present at a sub-surface earth location accessible via the sub-surface earth opening. The sub-surface earth condition is treated with the manufactured metallic nanoparticle material. Another method includes accessing a product from a sub-surface earth location that is extracted in conjunction with the sub-surface earth activity, measuring and introducing a dose amount of manufactured metallic nanoparticle material with the product from the sub-surface earth location.
We confirm that a nanotechnology patent filing explosion continues at a record pace in 2012 as we enter the final trimester of the year. On July 8, 2012, we reported that the USPTO was on pace to publish a record number of class 977 nanotechnology patent applications (over 4,000). This was also noted in past postings and reflects a solid trend. We checked again today and confirm that the current projection to end of the year remains at over 4,000 (4,043). The broad variety of technology in the filings is startling and in places unconventional. For example, US Patent Publication 2012/0221268 (the last application to publish) relates to quantum computing and lists Microsoft as assignee. Hydraulic fracturing is increasingly referred to in this body of patent literature as there are 16 such publications this year which is double the number compared to the prior three years combined (e.g., Halliburton’s US Patent Publication 2012/0220504).
Hopefully, as many of these patent filings as possible will serve useful commercial purposes and facilitate investment from the private sector as well as from government. The licensing of these patent filings can be analyzed for use in policy formulation and business development. Certainly, the on-going miniaturization of electronic devices – a hot patent topic these days with the Apple v. Samsung developments - will require more developments in nanotechnology including, for example, better batteries, power management, semiconductors, and displays. Clearly, many of the patent filings find applications related to energy, electronics, and bio nanotechnology.
In addition, hopefully the quality of filings remains solid despite the pressures to file applications. Finally, (hopefully!), patent reform will function to improve the patent system and encourage investment, particularly as it applies to nanotechnology inventions.
In 2012, at least five patent applications have published related to treatment of hydraulic fracturing water including waste water. We expect this number to grow. A variety of assignees are evident. Lux Research recently published a report on the subject of water treatment. Examples of patent filings include:
General Electric’s 2012/0097614 (interesting: DOE funding is evident);
Encana Corp.’s 2012/0085236 (Calgary);
Aquionics, Inc.’s 2012/0070339 (Kentucky);
Chevron’s 2012/0024525; and
Don Nevin’s 2012/0012307.
Hydraulic fracturing (HF) has become a substantial economic force and the subject of strong policy debate. HF has several connections to cleantech, including issues of water treatment and disposal. Recent patents related to water and cleantech include, for example, USP 8,119,007 to MIT, 8,110,115 to Ibex, and 8,105,488 to Anticline Disposal. U.S. Patents that refer to HF now grant at almost twice the rate as 2009 and before. This year, already, 41 have granted, and the number in 2011 was 224 and in 2010 was 257.
Nanotechnology also should become part of the search for HF technical solutions. USP 8,105,492 to Baker Hughes (“Methods for Recharging Nanoparticle-Treated Beds”) relates heavily to nanotechnology. The patent was not classified as a 977 nanotechnology patent, however. The Abstract shows:
Nanoparticle-treated particle packs, such as sand beds, may effectively filter and purify liquids such as waste water. Proppant beds treated with nanoparticles may fixate or reduce fines migration therethrough. When tiny contaminant particles or fines in these fluids flow through the nanoparticle-treated bed or pack, the nanoparticles will capture and hold the tiny contaminant or fines particles within the pack due to the nanoparticles’ surface forces, including, but not necessarily limited to van der Waals and electrostatic forces. Nanoparticle-treated beds or packs may be recharged by contacting the bed with an inorganic acid (but not hydrofluoric acid) or an organic acid, and optionally followed by subsequent treatment with hydrofluoric acid. This treating substantially removes the nanoparticles and the fine particulates that have been removed from a fluid (e.g. wastewater being treated, produced fluids in a formation, etc.). The particle pack may then be re-treated or recharged with nanoparticles.
We have been reviewing the President’s budget proposals announced yesterday, February 13, 2012 (fiscal year 2013 President’s Budget). In particular, we are looking at impact on nanotech and cleantech. Some highlights:
First, the NNI was given a 4.1% increase (NNI is National Nanotechnology Initiative). The total would rise to $1.8B.
Second, within the NNI heavy cuts are slated for defense, including DOD (down 20%) and Homeland Security (down 14%).
Third, within the NNI, heavy increases are proposed for Energy (up 40%) and the EPA (up 12%).
Interesting that in the webinar provided explaining the rationale, a research program can be cut for failure for lack of good future prospects. Alternatively, however, a research program can be cut if it is commercially successful and transitioning to the private sector. Hence, the input from government is for those programs in the middle.
The webinar also featured the administration continues to assert that the federal government had a major impact over the past thirty years on shale gas developments.
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu visited Pittsburgh today to review energy, natural gas, and innovation. In his remarks, he spoke of using shale natural gas as a balancing tool for wind and solar power. Chu also stressed the role of patents in innovation.
I noted discussion today at a Nanobusiness Commercialization Association meeting re role of nanotech in shale gas technology and its relationship to cleantech. So awareness of the connections are growing.
Interesting that the administration continues to push that the federal government’s shale gas research of the late 1970′s, in the Jimmy Carter era (and also Gerald Ford), has an important connection with 2012 events in deep shale drilling. Some recent blog activity noted this.
Possibly, or necessarily, shale gas and cleantech can and should arrive at a synergistic relationship.
Of course, for those who know Pittsburgh, competing with Chu in Pittsburgh today for attention was the Steelers introducing their new offensive coordinator. There is always something new.
President Obama’s recent State of the Union address spoke of domestic oil and gas industry including shale gas (“American-made energy”). A leading but controversial technology for this industry is, of course, hydraulic fracturing. A brief review of the patent literature for 2012 confirms that inventors in this area for US patent filings are largely from the US. In a global economy, such domestic concentration for inventorship is somewhat unusual. The concentration of this innovation in the U.S. should be monitored.
As of today, in 2012, 38 patent publications refer to “hydraulic fracturing.” Of these, 27 (71%) list all U.S. inventors, and 32 (84%) list all U.S. inventors or list a majority of inventors as residing in the U.S. Only 5 of the 38 (13%) list all non-U.S. inventors. The leading state for inventors is Texas.
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An important development to watch is how nanotechnology can be used as an innovation tool for hydraulic fracturing. See, for example, our prior blog posts of July 20, June 24, and June 5, 2011. The problem starts with nano: valuable carbonaceous materials are trapped in dense pore rock with pores scaling down to the nanoscale. How to get it out?
The problem continues with how to handle the waste water – nano is also important for this issue. The EPA provides an overview of these important commercial, environmental, and technical issues.
A number of hydraulic fracturing patent publications in 2011 were accorded the 977 nanotech classification. For example, on December 1, 2011, a patent application published related to nanodispersion well serving fluids including nanoparticles. PTO assignment recordation records show the application is now owned by Baker Hughes. In addition, on September 29, 2011, Chevron USA had published an application related to nanoparticle completion fluids.
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