Hungry to make innovative change a reality, head of UTP's CO2 Research Centre, AP Dr. Lau Kok Keong, says, “The fundamental research work we do is vulnerable to decline if we don't try to solve real industry problems."
Dr. Lau is the inventor of a predictive software
that gauges the lifespan of hollow fibre membranes for oil and gas operations. He says, “PETRONAS and its subsidiaries use a membrane separation system to remove CO2 from the natural gas extracted from offshore. The system is used to purify natural gas in order to meet industry standard.
In developing the software, Dr. Lau and his team collaborated with a PETRONAS subsidiary, Carigali-PTTEPI Operating Company Sdn Bhd (CPOC). Too often, according to Dr. Lau, when CPOC consulted the membrane's manufacturer, they had to incur high consultation fees.
“As these membranes are expensive, every time they asked for the membranes' health assessment from the manufacturer, they had to pay considerable amount of consultancy fee for each report. Because of this, CPOC faced a lot of issues as they were not entirely sure of the true state of the membranes," explains Dr. Lau.
However, according to Dr. Lau who is the project leader of the software, at the time, there was no instrument available to accurately gauge the health and lifespan of the membranes. Consequently, CPOC was having difficulties overseeing the replacement of the expensive membranes against the distinct volume of the company's offshore activities.
He says, “Replacing them prematurely would be really costly. This would unnecessarily increase their capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operating expenses (OPEX)."
Speaking of the software's commercialisation in 2015, Dr. Lau says, “Following the groundwork, we started working on the software in 2010. Together with my PhD and master students, we carried out a preliminary round of testing on the software in 2013. After the pilot study and various simulation tests conducted with CPOC, the software was validated in 2014."
Evidently, apart from helping CPOC assess the health of the membranes, Dr. Lau stresses, “The predictive software will also help oil and gas operators extend lifespan of the membranes. This is something that was previously absent. Considering production disparities among oil and gas operators, major CAPEX savings can be achieved."
In practice, CPOC engineers have started using the software since 2017. As a result, CPOC can now plan an optimal replacement schedule of the membranes and enhance overall system productivity.
Further, the software's benefits and potential have since mesmerized CPOC. Dr. Lau says, “They have donated 2 membranes to help us take our research further."
Significantly, optimal membrane management suggested by the software will also help oil and gas operators reduce CO2 emission by minimizing hydrocarbon flaring in the membrane separation system.
Currently, Dr. Lau says that the product has gained a strong footprint in the Malaysia market. He shares, “Domestically, we have captured 25% of the market."
Hinting at the plan to tap into the middle east market in the near future, for next year, Dr. Lau and his team are currently working out a deal for distribution in south east Asia.
To date, the software has generated an income of more than RM1 million for the university. Dr. Lau says, “This further cements UTP's capacity as a technology provider. We are not just generating a new revenue stream for the university. But more importantly, our role is to formulate innovative solutions that can help industry players solve complex challenges in order to operate nimbly."
Last but not least, Dr. Lau offers a fresh outlook in view of research efforts carried out by universities, “First of all, they (researchers) need to know what the industry needs. They need to be aware of the industry's problems and align their research so they know what the end goal is. Therefore, with their fundamental research, hopefully after 5 years, they can help local industry players scale up their capability."
Indeed, Dr. Lau Kok Keong is another prime example of UTP's profound industry collaboration. From the work we do, we foster long-term relationships with our global social-impact partners to prepare our students, people and researchers as global citizens. As a leading university in engineering, science and technology, our people are driven to exceed their professional objectives and contribute towards overcoming capability deficit across all sectors and industries.
Published on 9 October 2020