TS-Nano CEO Mahmoud R. Taha at his company’s lab at the Bioscience Center in Albuquerque on Aug. 9. (Chancey Bush/)
Copyright © 2022
University of New Mexico engineers have created a nanotechnology-based sealant that could offer the oil and gas industry a permanent solution for abandoned, climate-polluting wells.
UNM researchers developed the sealant over 10 years, and they’re now marketing it through a new Albuquerque-based startup, TS-Nano, in partnership with two next-generation, blockchain-based development firms, Devvio Inc. and DevvStream Inc.
The two sister companies invested $2.5 million last month in TS-Nano, which they plan to promote through an advanced web platform they built that offers secure, online transactions for businesses across the globe. The companies are now headquartered in Europe, but Albuquerque-based engineers built their original platform technology in New Mexico.
The partnership could allow TS-Nano to rapidly build worldwide demand for its product, said UNM engineering professor and TS-Nano CEO Mahmoud R. Taha. That’s because Devvio and DevvStream’s web platform will allow the partners to collect and manage all data from wellbore remediation projects that employ TS-Nano’s proprietary sealant, quantifying and certifying all greenhouse gas emission reduction.
The partners can then turn those reductions into blockchain-protected carbon credits that can be sold to other businesses as carbon offsets. And that, in turn, will allow TS-Nano to offer well-plugging solutions to the oil and gas industry with little or no upfront costs, using monetized carbon credits as an alternative to pay for remediation, Taha said.
“The partnership allows us to monitor the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions before and after sealing a well, and then monetize the reduced emissions to generate carbon credits,” Taha told the Journal. “That means investors can finance remediation projects using our technology, which is then paid for by the carbon credits that come from plugging wells.”
For TS-Nano and its partners, it’s a win-win arrangement that allows companies to combine new nanotechnology with next-generation “Web3” technology to jointly offer market solutions to combatting climate change.
Web3 and carbon credits
Devvio and DevvStream’s business model is based fundamentally on pursuing positive environmental, social and corporate governance, or ESG, goals in all their business endeavors, said Devvio Global President Ray Quintana.
“Devvio is committed to investing and leveraging its resources to create positive impacts through the newest green innovations,” Quintana said in a statement. “Our investment in TS-Nano, which marks the beginning of a long-term commitment to wellbore remediation and maintenance, will reduce methane emissions significantly, while creating high-quality voluntary offset credits listed on recognized registries, purchasable by enterprises and municipalities to improve ESG performance.”
Devvio, which launched five years ago, signed a separate partnership in May with Ocean Integrity, a global leader in the collection of marine plastic waste. Similar to its arrangement with TS-Nano, the Ocean Integrity partnership is turning marine waste reduction into plastic offset credits through Devvio’s ESG software platform, which uses advanced blockchain technology to guarantee that the information tied to each bale of recovered plastic garbage is captured on an immutable ledger, transforming the waste into an asset, or credit offset, that can be purchased by other public and private entities.
The secure blockchain framework undercuts industry “greenwashing,” whereby corporate entities knowingly disseminate false information to portray an environmentally responsible image, according to Devvio.
With TS-Nano, that system will now be applied to the oil and gas industry, which is under intense pressure in the US and elsewhere to plug abandoned, climate-polluting wells.
“Web3 technologies are vital to ensuring data transparency and provenance, both of which are key to implementation of credible ESG projects,” UNM professor Taha explained in a statement. “Devvio’s ESG platform is powered by a high-speed, high-throughput, (regulatory-compliant) green blockchain that captures and manages extraordinary amounts of data while keeping it visible and accessible. This increases trust, ensures the project’s environmental integrity and eliminates the possibility of greenwashing, allowing our company to unequivocally establish the quantities of methane we’re avoiding and the positive impact of our efforts.”
How the sealant works
Taha and his team at UNM created their new nanotech sealant specifically to eliminate ongoing methane leaks from wells that are plugged using the standard industry method of pouring cement down the wellbore.
“The traditional approach for the past 100 years has been to flood the wells with cement, but we know today that’s not an effective, long-term solution,” Taha told the Journal. “Cement is a porous material that develops microcracks in just a couple of days that are large enough for gas to get through.”
Over decades, the cement degrades in the subsurface environment and becomes very leaky, and then must be sealed again, Taha said.
“If we use cement alone, as we’ve done for the past century, either we or our children will have to go back again to address the issue,” he said.
TS-Nano’s new solution, which Taha’s team began developing in 2012, is a nano-modified, polymer-sealing material that can fill in the tiny microcracks in cement that are often thinner than a human hair, Taha said.
“It’s a non-porous bonding polymer that bonds with subsurface rock,” he said. “It’s very flexible, and it pushes other materials and fluids to fill in the microcracks to completely seal them. It starts plugging everything up from day one.”
It can also be tailored to fit the needs of individual wellbores.
“We can change things in the material to make it a targeted sealant that meets the specific requirements of wells,” Taha said.
Local, global market
A consortium of global oil and gas companies – including BP, Chevron, French firm TotalEnergies SE and Brazil’s Petrobras – successfully field-tested the sealant in 2019 on mock wells for carbon sequestration in Switzerland, Taha said. The Norwegian Resource Center also tested its efficacy.
“We’re talking now with companies in New Mexico, and have been invited by an industry consortium to field-test our material in Alberta, Canada,” Taha said.
In the US alone, the potential market is huge, with hundreds of thousands of abandoned and “orphaned” wells spread throughout oil-producing states, according to the US Department of the Interior. The federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last fall, includes $4.7 billion for oil well remediation across the country.
New Mexico received $43.7 million that early this year to accelerate plugging of some 1,700 abandoned wells around the state.
TS-Nano and Devvio already have a portfolio of potential industry partners with over 800 wells, said Devvio President Quintana.
“Everything is moving forward now,” Quintana told the Journal. “We believe we’ll fill in the first wells this quarter. We’re still working with different agencies on carbon-offset accreditation, but we’re ready to go and we’re rolling it out now.”
TS-Nano’s lab at the Bioscience Center in Uptown is capable of producing up to 1,000 gallons of polymer nanocomposite sealant for leaky wells every two to three weeks. (Chancey Bush/)
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ABQ at the center
TS-Nano currently operates out of the Bioscience Center in Uptown, where it’s capable of producing up to 1,000 gallons of sealant every two to three weeks, which is enough to seal 20 to 30 small wellbores, Taha said.
“We’ll supply the material to companies to plug wells themselves, but we’ll also work directly with service companies to provide complete, customized solutions for wells,” Taha said.
The partners are expecting TS-Nano’s technology, coupled with Devvio and DevvStream’s web platform, to have a significant impact locally, nationally and globally, said Sunny Trinh, CEO of DevvStream, which manages the carbon-offset accreditation and trading part of the business.
“DevvStream is proud to be a partner in this important methane-reduction initiative,” Trinh said in a statement. “As a carbon-streaming company, we look for projects that take a unique, technology-focused approach to climate improvement that provides our stakeholders with the opportunity to purchase high-quality carbon offsets. TS-Nano’s innovative sealant technologies, combined with Devvio’s Web3 platform, offer an ideal opportunity for our company to further its world-changing goals.”