Electric Fields Improve Pipeline Oil Flow
Research in the United States has shown that applying a strong electric field to sections of the Keystone pipeline near Wichita, Kansas, can smooth oil flow and save pump energy.
At present, pipeline oil is usually heated over long distances to reduce its viscosity, though this uses a lot of energy and increases turbulence within the flow, thus being counter-productive.
The research, originally proposed in 2006 by Temple University’s Rongjia Tao, provides a more efficient way to improve flow rates by applying an electric field the oil, Science Daily reported.
The idea, tested by Tao in collaboration with Save The World Air, Inc, is to electrically align the crude oil’s particles to reduce its thickness and turbulence.
It resulted in the development of Applied Oil Technology (AOT) which links oil pipelines and produces an electric field that follows the direction of the oil flow.
Trials in Wyoming and China confirmed that the oil forms short chains in an electric field, thus reducing viscosity and simultaneously increasing viscosity perpendicular to the flow, helping suppress turbulence overall.
Tests on the Keystone pipeline confirmed energy savings and found that a 75 per cent reduction in pump power from 2.8 megawatts to 0.7 megawatts – still maintaining the same flow rate – was also achieved. The oil retained its low viscosity and turbulence for 11 hours before it returned to its original thicker state, however the process is repeatable.
The work was published in the Physical Review E in January 2015.