By Adam Huras, via admin August 5, 2015

By Adam Huras, via

FREDERICTON – A Fredericton startup has won an international competition that called for ways to reduce the use of sand in hydraulic fracturing.

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The inaugural Statoil and GE Oil & Gas Open Innovation Challenge could be worth as much as $400,000 to BIOPolynet – a graduate of the Fredericton-based Planet Hatch Accelerator Program – if its technology reaches certain milestones toward commercialization.

The contest was launched by the Norwegian state oil company and the oil and gas unit of the conglomerate General Electric Co. in search of alternatives for sand in shale gas development.

The technologies selected could eventually address a major concern of communities that stand opposed to ‍frack‍‍ing.

Sand is part of the solution of pressurized liquid – known more commonly as ‍fracking fluid – that is injected into wells to open up tiny fractures in underground rock, enabling oil and natural gas to flow freely.

More than 100 submissions from applicants from over 30 countries were received.

BIOPolynet was one of five winners named, receiving an initial cash prize of $25,000.

Its founder and CEO Mostafa Aghaei immigrated to New Brunswick from the Middle East a few years ago to take a position at the University of New Brunswick.

The biophysicist brought with him a technology he developed to help stabilize huge sand dunes in Iran. That product, made from natural polymers that bind together when mixed with water, has been used to prevent erosion.

That same technology is now being applied to sand in hydraulic ‍fracking, making the fluid used more viscous or thicker. Making the fluid slightly “sticky” helps the particles to adhere to the surface of fissures in the underground rock formation.

That means the mixture could keep fractures in the rock open for longer, releasing more oil or gas, while requiring less sand and water.

“We are excited and honoured to win such a large global challenge,” Aghaei said in a statement on the contest’s website.“This prize will make a big difference to our company.”

The technology could ultimately address a public concern.

“Well stimulation requires hundreds of truck trips to transport materials, which increases road wear and traffic as well as noise, dust and emissions,” states the innovation challenge’s website.

“By focusing on sand, the crowd-sourcing challenge looked for solutions that have the potential to reduce the environmental impacts on local communities, lessen emissions and make energy production more efficient.

“Proppant and water are the most trucked materials in hydraulic fracturing.”

It adds:“The end game is to develop a diverse portfolio of technologies that help reduce the environmental footprint, while enhancing operational efficiencies.”

A second innovation challenge – focusing on water in unconventional energy development – was recently announced and remains open for submissions until late September.

Click here to visit BIOPolynet’s official website.

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