Electrical Method to Eliminate Hydrocarbon Fouling and Reduce Pumping Power for Pipeline Oil Transport

Physical Sciences : Mechanical

Available for licensing


  • Vaibhav (VB) Bahadur , University of Texas at Austin

Background/unmet need

Hydrocarbon (organic) fouling in the oil and gas industry is a significant flow assurance concern and has huge implications for efficiency, reliability, and safety. Hydrocarbon fouling can take many forms, such as asphaltenes and waxes, and is a serious operational concern in conventional and unconventional oil production. Current techniques for mitigating fouling involve periodic pigging, heating and the use of chemical inhibitors.

Pipelines are a very effective way of transporting hydrocarbons. However, transporting high-viscosity oil needs very high pumping pressures that drives up pumping power requirements and pumping costs.

Invention Description

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a novel electrical method that can eliminate/reduce hydrocarbon fouling and reduce oil pumping costs more effectively than existing technologies. The method exploits the electrical properties of water and hydrocarbons to induce a water buffer layer at the pipeline interior surface. The presence of this water layer eliminates hydrocarbon-to-surface contact and the resulting fouling. The electrically-induced water layer also protects the surface from water-based corrosion and prevents current leakages.


  • Can reduce pumping pressures/power for pipeline oil transport by 10x
  • Low power consumption
  • Scalable and adaptable to different shapes and sizes of equipment and pipelines
  • Modular and retrofittable technology
  • Enhanced reliability and safety
  • Prevents water-based corrosion and current leakages
  • Lubricates oil flow


  • Novel electrical technology for eliminating multiple types of hydrocarbon fouling
  • Water buffer layer induced by the application of an electric voltage to an insulating layer
  • Applicable over a wide range of operating conditions and oil-water fractions
  • Relies on preferential electrostatic attraction of water to the pipeline surface

Market potential/applications

Fouling causes significant operating costs for oil and gas companies that have an even more severe impact on the economy. Research has shown that losses due to fouling can cost billions of dollars: 0.169% to 0.25% of total GDP. The proposed method can reduce the cost of fouling control in oil pipelines more effectively than current technologies that are limited in their ability to mitigate overall economic losses.

Development Stage

Proof of concept

IP Status

  • 1 U.S. patent application filed