underway with "smart" polymers by a research group at
The University of Southern Mississippi could help the country lessen
its dependence on foreign oil by squeezing more from its current
developed by Southern Miss professor Dr. Charles McCormick, assistant
professor Dr. Andrew Lowe and their students will be used to recover
hard-to-reach oil deep below the earth's surface.
Funded by a
$1.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, the research team
is preparing "smart" polymers that can be injected into
oil reservoirs to push entrapped petroleum to production wells.
'smart' polymers have built in sensors that respond to reservoir
conditions, like temperature and salinity, and are thereby capable
of mobilizing oil," McCormick said. These environmentally safe
polymers are of strategic importance to the U.S. government's effort
to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
Department of Energy estimates, more than 350 billion barrels of
oil remain in domestic reserves, enough to meet the nation's needs;
however, advanced technologies like the "smart" polymer
must be used to affordably produce this petroleum.
now depends on foreign sources for more than 50 percent of its petroleum
needs," McCormick said. "With escalating violence in the
Middle East and the demands for environmental stewardship, we must
explore new technologies for domestic production of fuel and feedstocks."
Made from biodegradable
amino acids, the "smart" polymers are flooded into wells,
where they release oil entrapped in the porous reservoir rock. The
freed oil is then swept along through channels in the formation
to the production wells.
research project is another outstanding example of the world-class
research going on at The University of Southern Mississippi College
of Science and Technology," said COST Dean Dr. Rex Gandy. "These
outstanding chemists and polymer scientists are to be commended
for their efforts in this scientifically challenging and socially
relevant research area."
One of the
project's researchers, Dr. Neil Ayers, a postdoctoral student from
the University of Warwick in England, called the new environmentally
friendly polymers "cutting-edge chemistry, very exciting."
I went looking around for different chemistry programs to do my
postdoctoral work, I was attracted to Southern Miss and Dr. McCormick
because of the reputation of the university and of his research
group," Ayers said.
polymers are proving useful in oil recovery, they have many other
benefits. Brad Lokitz, a second-year graduate student from Ocean
Springs working with the McCormick research group, said "smart"
polymers could "revolutionize medicine."
are being used in new ways to deliver time-released drugs inside
the body," Lokitz said. "They are also helpful in waste-water
continues to serve as a major center for fossil fuel research for
the Department of Energy. McCormick and his colleague Dr. Roger
Hester have received more than $12 million in research funds from
the DOE and the Department of Defense for developing smart water-soluble
Dvorak, vice-president for research and economic development, said
the research efforts of Dr. McCormick and his team "clearly
demonstrate the capacity and commitment of The University of Southern
Mississippi to address societal needs and real world problems."
is our business," Dvorak said. "This pioneering technology
is about making the world a better place, while creating new knowledge
for the next generation."