by Liz Bustamante
SOCORRO, N.M., September 2005 -- The appearance of US Patent Number 6,905,504 on June 14, 2005, “Method of Converting Feed Water to Fresh Water,” marked a special occasion at the PRRC, representing the culmination of several years of research and study by Dr. Joseph J. Taber, PRRC Director Emeritus.
The process claimed by this patent uses existing water pressures and high flow rates of waterfloods to produce fresh water by reverse osmosis, for minimal operating costs and with no disposal problems. With this process, operators could adapt off-the-shelf reverse osmosis units for immediate application in their waterfloods.
The device hasn’t been built yet, but Dr. Taber and the New Mexico Tech Foundation, who own rights to the patent, hope that a manufacturer can be found to correctly fabricate the flanges needed. There are several different embodiments but the envisioned best application would be to install the reverse osmosis unit in the line, right in the water injection pipe going to the injection well. Dr. Taber and PRRC hope that this process will be useful in New Mexico oilfields.
Instead of simply publishing his findings, the patent was sought, says Dr. Taber, because “a patent seems to lend a certain credibility that publishing a paper in a journal doesn’t.” He has been interested in reverse osmosis for many years — while lecturing on CO-2 flooding (he is an expert in this field) he thought of water under pressure in oilfield waterfloods: why not use the existing pressures in the brackish/salty waters for reverse osmosis processes?
“Once I started looking at this,” he says, “I realized there were two other significant benefits. First, you could employ the high flow rates often found in waterfloods to sweep the membranes clear of the salts that normally accumulate there. Second, this new method would get rid of all the usual waste disposal problems that are almost always a part of reverse osmosis systems.” All reject water is injected to recover oil.
From concept to patent took about 10 years, although Dr. Taber was not engaged in patent research during all that time. This is his ninth patent — and the first to bear his name alone as the inventor. Dr. Taber calls it, “the most difficult of my patents.” (The rest were filed while he was working for Gulf Oil).
“The first ones were easier, not just that I was much younger, but because many people at Gulf provided advice and assistance — especially Gulf’s patent lawyers, who did all the application work. Perhaps,” he adds, “patent examiners have made life more difficult in the last 40 years, because in this case, we had to answer many more objections raised by the patent examiner.”
Although this patent could have ramifications for waste disposal, Dr. Taber’s future plans do not include any new patents that are in the works right now. He wants to get back to writing his book, whose working title, he says, is Injecting the Right Stuff for Maximum Oil Recovery.
The patent may be obtained by anyone from the U.S. Patent Office website at http://www.uspto.gov/. Dr. Taber welcomes questions or comments on this useful research that he has pursued into the sixth decade of his scientific career. He may be contacted through the PRRC’s Publications Office, 505-835-5406, or firstname.lastname@example.org.