PhD interview: Underwater factories offer more efficient and safer resource extraction

Wednesday 26 Jun 19
by Emil Fosgaard Lund


Ahead of the coming summer break, a couple of PhD students defended their theses at DTU Chemical Engineering. One of them was Francois Kruger, who defended his thesis ‘Towards the realization of subsea factories: Thermodynamics of petroleum fluids relevant to subsea processing’.

Throughout the study year, PhD defenses take place on a regular basis. We interviewed Francois Kruger about his project ‘Towards the realization of subsea factories: Thermodynamics of petroleum fluids relevant to subsea processing’, which he very recently defended.


What is the essence of your PhD project?

My project was sponsored by Equinor and relates directly to their subsea technologies: Gas-2-PipeTM and the Subsea FactoryTM. These technologies aim to move production from manned onshore plants to unmanned offshore/subsea processing units, thereby decreasing the environmental footprint and energy costs of operations.


My research contained four main themes: experimental measurement, thermodynamic modelling, process simulation/design and uncertainty analysis. The measurement and modelling components revolved around the phase separation of natural gas and water, with the addition of chemicals such as glycols. The process aspects considered the implementation of Equinor’s techonologies, with the quantification of uncertainty was an overall theme.


What did you discover during your research?

Within the scope of the wider research projects at Equinor, it was very important to show that the newly proposed technologies are truly viable. The measurement of thermodynamic data is an important step in that process. We published data that was not previously available and showed that (at least at lab-scale) the technologies are advantageous as energy demands are lower and fewer chemical additives are required. With improved thermodynamic models and uncertainty analysis, we highlighted potential risks within the simulation of these processes and tried to quantify the confidence intervals of our predictions. After all, if one were to place a factory at the bottom of the ocean, you would like at least to have an idea of the range of possible outcomes.


What are the possible wider implications of your research for society?

While renewable resources play an ever-increasing role in the world’s energy supply, it should not be forgotten that traditional carbon-based fuel sources will continue to be the majority energy source for many years to come. While the low-hanging fruits have been collected in terms of research of traditional energy resources, we should not be neglecting research (and by inference, the improved recovery thereof) in this field simply due to the perception of carbon-based fuels as “dirty”. Hopefully, this project has contributed to more efficient and safer future extraction of resources, where emissions and energy consumption are limited through the treat-at-source concept.


What made you apply for a PhD position at DTU Chemical Engineering?

At the time when the opportunity became available to me, I was looking to move to Europe. DTU is widely known as one of the top thermodynamics research facilities in the world. And with having already met both Professors von Solms and Kontogeorgis, it was a very easy decision to come to Lyngby.


What does the future hold for you?

Upon the completion of my PhD, I took up a position as an R&D Engineer in the distillation research group at BASF in Ludwigshafen, Germany.

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