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What did the electric field say to the oil pipeline?

February 27, 2015 - “I am going to pump you up!”... The American Physical Society reports that researchers have shown a strong electric field applied to a section of the Keystone pipeline can smooth oil flow and yield pump energy savings in the range of 75%. That’s pumped up!


February 28, 2015
By Anthony Capkun

Traditionally, pipeline oil is heated over several miles to reduce its thickness (a.k.a. viscosity), explains the society, but this requires a large amount of energy and counter-productively increases turbulence within the flow.

In 2006, Rongjia Tao of Temple University in Pennsylvania proposed a more efficient way of improving flow rates by applying an electric field to the oil; essentially, to electrically align particles within the crude oil to reduce both viscosity and turbulence.

To test this, Tao collaborated with energy company Save The World Air Inc. to develop an applied oil technology (AOT) device that links to oil pipelines and produces an electric field along the direction of flow.

According to the society, recent trials on oil pipelines in Wyoming and China verified that crude oil particles form short chains in an electric field. These chains reduce viscosity in the direction of flow to a minimum while increasing viscosity perpendicular to the flow, which helps suppress overall turbulence.

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This past summer, the society says Tao and his colleagues successfully tested the AOT device on a section of the Keystone pipeline near Wichita, Kan.

“People were amazed at the energy savings when we first tested this device. They didn’t initially understand the physics,” said Tao. “A second test with an independent company was arranged and found the same thing.”

Tests on a section of the Keystone pipeline found that the same flow rate could be achieved with a 75% reduction of pump power, from 2.8MW to 0.7MW thanks to the AOT device (which uses 720 watts).

Once aligned, the oil retained its low viscosity and turbulence for more than 11 hours before returning to its original viscosity. But the process is repeatable, and Tao and his colleagues envision AOT stations spaced along a pipeline.

(It’s worth mentioning that Tao has also shown the same technique applied with a magnetic field can reduce blood viscosity by 20% to 30%, representing a possible treatment for heart disease.)