Virtually everything around us had, at some point in its development, an input from chemical engineering. This fact can be proven by the vast application of chemical engineering spanning pharmaceutical, process and manufacturing, and oil industries. I became interested in chemical engineering because of the broad, exciting opportunities and career flexibility it provides for its graduates. With my excellent performance in math and the sciences in high school, I was admitted into one of the best engineering schools in Nigeria (Federal University of Technology Owerri) in 2006 to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. However, it was not until 2010, after my 6 months internship with Chevron Nigeria that I decided to focus on reservoir engineering. During this period, I worked as an intern in the reservoir engineering unit where I modelled Agbami field oil wells using PROSPER and Eclipse. I performed volumetric and material balance calculations of Agbami wells using MBAL, prepared the gas-oil-ratio plots of the wells on a daily basis using MS-Excel, and learnt about the different water-injection patterns used in Agbami field. By the end of my stay, I have developed a huge interest in sustainable energy production.
After receiving a BEng in Chemical Engineering, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in the field of petroleum. To this effect, I applied and got admitted into the University of Aberdeen in 2013 to pursue an MSc in Oil and Gas Engineering. Through research and course modules offered, I gained an in- depth knowledge and understanding of the oil industry. I was surprised when I learnt that the current technologies for oil production can only produce less than 40% of the original oil in place due to certain factors like the reservoir wetting states, the fluid properties, pore structure and geometry of the medium. I was intrigued by knowing that optimal oil recovery requires a great understanding of the nature and manipulation of these factors. Presently, about 82% of the global energy is generated from fossil fuels, and about 33% of this come from oil and gas. With the chances of making new (oil field) discoveries very low, it means that if there are no increased focuses on discovering advanced and cost-effective techniques to increase oil production, the global energy demand may not be met in the near future.
It was, however, my MSc dissertation that convinced me to pursue a PhD in the fluid mechanics of oil recovery. My dissertation was a laboratory investigation of the impact of flood rate and flood water salinity on waterflood oil recovery under the supervision of Dr. Yukie Tanino. I used lab-on-a-chip methods to measure oil recovery from packed beds of grains under different waterflood schemes. From the results of my experiments, I observed that low salinity flood water, faster flood rate, mixed-wet conditions, and oils of low viscosity are favourable to waterflood oil recovery. Designing and testing different algorithms to segment the acquired images into oil, water, and grains with minimal human intervention was a major challenge. Indeed, I understand that my dissertation constituted the first attempt in the research group to automate the image segmentation. I found it very rewarding that even negative results - algorithms that performed poorly - provided insight to the PhD student who supervised me in the lab, whose thesis was focused on developing the protocol for the lab-on-a-chip experiments. I also found the lab environment very stimulating, and enjoyed interacting regularly with technicians, PhD students, and my classmates also undertaking their thesis in the lab.
My experience during my dissertation now motivates me to pursue a PhD to continue the research and fully understand the mechanisms behind the observations made from my earlier studies. I would also look at the effect of flood water temperature on waterflood recovery of heavy oils and oil sands. With the conventional resources getting depleted, the future of the oil industry lies in discovering ways to harness the unconventional resources. One of the unconventional resources which represent a huge accumulation of hydrocarbons is the oil sands. Alberta’s oil sands are the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Through research and development of advanced techniques to recover this resource, Alberta would be a world-leading energy supplier in the near future. With the University of Alberta located in this oil capital, its department of Chemical and Materials Engineering would be a home to many world experts in the field of oil and gas. It is my desire to work with one of these experts. After completing my degree, I would like to pursue a career focused on research, be it in academia or in the oil & gas industry. I believe that the PhD programme will provide me the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to become an independent and competent researcher.