The oilfield is well positioned to enjoy the benefit of broadly accessible analytical tools to assess the origin and fate of the chemicals it uses in exploration, development transportation and production. This combined approach of origin and fate classification allows innovative suppliers to fiercely protect proprietary information from the intrusive disclosure that has slowed past efforts to be transparent. Although the current focus on greenhouse gas emissions and water management rightfully commands the industries’ attention, there is a large opportunity for companies to quickly demonstrate environmental friendliness and sustainable supply to the industry.
Integrity BioChem’s (IBC) biopolymer-based products like TegraSurf are a route to achieve this. IBC bases its products’ carbon signature on the origin of the raw material along with its fate after use as a product (i.e., service life). To determine the origin, it’s important to know how much modern, renewable plant-based carbon can be used to source all our products. For the fate aspect, we study how the service life of the product matches the product lifetime after use.
Advancing this thought leadership has required two gaps in the foundational understanding of how environmentally responsible supply can be defined. In the origin case, the use of modern sources of carbon from plants and/or crops moves the discussion toward “net-zero carbon.”
Specifically, can the industrial-era habit of continuing to reintroduce ancient carbon sources (i.e., coal, oil, gas, etc.) into the present-day ecosystem be reversed? In the fate case, environmentally responsible supply means the time difference between the product lifetime and product service time should be close to zero. For IBC’s TegraSurf, both cases are achieved without sacrificing product performance, market access to the technologies or incurring extreme cost penalties.
Communicating Products’ Origin and Fate
There are various tools available to chemical suppliers to communicate the origin and fate of their products in a manner that can be easily tallied in ESG reporting formats. The Renewable Carbon Index (RCI) readily classifies the origin of carbon in a molecule (i.e., modern vegetative sources or extracted petroleum derivatives) by measuring the number of carbons derived from renewable sources compared to the total number of carbons in the product. TegraSurf, for instance, reports an RCI of greater than 90%, indicating it contains a high percentage of carbon atoms from natural sources.
RCI can be developed responsibly in two ways, but the final arbiter is the ASTM D6866 protocol that uses carbon isotopes to distinguish modern carbon sources from ancient sources. This test uses the 14C/12C ratio to assess the modernity of the carbon source. 14C has a half-life of about 5,730 years and after 57,000 years less than 0.1% of the carbon signature is 14C.
Since the petroleum systems that produce oil and gas around the world are millions of years old, those carbon signatures are depleted of 14C, thus the distinction between modern plant-derived products and petroleum products are discernable.
These tests are available from third-party labs, take time and carry a cost. The process can be risk-managed within supply chain groups by having the staff chemists calculate the number of bio-based carbons and dividing by the total number of carbons in the product, assuming the molecular structure is well understood. IBC has found excellent agreement when correlating the theoretical calculation and the estimates from the isotopic analyses (Figure 1).
IBC assesses the fate of its products using Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) protocols. These tests provide benchmarks for relative degrees of biodegradation including a definition of “readily biodegradable.”
For the OECD 301B protocol, which measures mass loss due to degradation of organic material in aerobic, aqueous systems, Readily Biodegradable is achieved for a DOC mass loss of at least 70% at 28 days in the aqueous solution. Reputable labs offering these tests report the details of the tests, overview, test procedures, internal standards, results and certifications. Certificates for individual products are also available for suppliers to share with their customers.
The Importance of Understanding Origin and Fate
Managing both the origin and fate of a product is essential for modern carbon product stewardship. Without understanding the origin of the carbon in a product, end-users do not understand the nature of carbon input in the present day. Use of plant-based products implies that an ancient store of carbon is not accessed to produce modern products. By building a portfolio of bio-based products like TegraSurf, IBC helps ensure energy companies’ carbon input is less accretive and therefore more aligned with a net-zero carbon strategy.
Similarly, product fate management can be timed so the presence of the product is more closely aligned with its use (i.e., service time) and then quickly degrades into the natural carbon cycle. Biodegradation is an important tool to be integrated into a product’s lifecycle to minimize long-term toxicity and accumulation (space) impacts on future generations.