The U.S Department of Energy is pairing up with scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Engineering and Mines to collaborate research on unconventional ways to process heavy oil with the use of polymer flooding.

FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Energy and Pacific Northwest National Labs to collaborate research on hydropower and alternative oil processing techniques. 

The department’s Office of Fossil Energy has agreed to provide $7 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development with UAF in unconventional oil and natural gas recovery.

“We feel that opportunities here in Alaska for additional unconventional oil, which is unique to the geography of Alaska, is very important,” said Paul Dabbar, undersecretary for science at the Department of Energy. “So that’s why we felt that it was very important to fund that.”

As part of the study, UAF will investigate the first-ever polymer flood for heavy oil resources on the Alaska North Slope in the Milne Point Field.

Abhijit Dandekar, chair of UAF’s Petroleum Engineering program, said this funding will mean big things for research on new ways to process oil.

“I think the future is heavy oil or viscous oil, so this funding is a great opportunity for us to see how we can efficiently recover some of that heavy oil,” Dandekar said. “We have anywhere between 25 and 30 billion barrels of heavy oil, so that’s a huge resource.”

These alternative ways to recover the oil will help preserve Alaska’s permafrost while processing the thicker oil stores.

“We have some challenges such as permafrost, so we can’t really deploy some of the typical techniques that we use such as heat,” Dandekar said. “So this particular funding is focused on injecting polymer.”

UAF also signed a five-year agreement with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to work together in researching hydropower generation, marine renewable energy and underwater technology development.

UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power will create integrated research teams with PNNL, pursue joint funding requests and establish joint graduate student research and faculty appointment programs.

Jeremy Kasper, director of ACEP’s Alaska Hydrokinetic Energy Research Center, will lead the university’s side of the partnership.

“The memorandum of understanding between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Pacific Northwest National Labs is focused on leveraging expertise between the two institutions,” Kasper said. “PNNL has lots of expertise when it comes to environment interactions with turbines and that’s pretty complementary with what UAF has as well.”

Dabbar noted that these innovations in energy production could reduce the cost of living for smaller Alaska communities. 

“These are the sort of technologies that will be very important to reduce costs for people here and increase the options,” Dabbar said.

The research will be done using hydrokinetic energy turbines placed in rivers to generate electricity without a dam. 

Kasper said the pair is a perfect match based on the research each institution specializes in. 

“UAF has done quite a lot of work on characterizing the environment that these turbines are operating in,” Kasper said. “PNNL is focused more on marine biology and marine environment and UAF had done a lot of work on river biology and river environment.”

Initial research will focus on energy system reliability, aquatic environmental monitoring, innovative underwater technologies and maritime security. Future projects will likely utilize unmanned aerial systems for oil spill and ecosystem restoration monitoring, improving energy efficiency in maritime infrastructure and helping reduce impacts to fish and mammals near the turbines.

Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.