Meet our expert

Reducing friction in customer relationships

Roopa Tellakula knows a thing or two about keeping things flowing smoothly, whether that's hydraulic fracturing fluid in a wellbore or a two-way flow of information to help a customer find the best solution for friction reduction. As part of Kemira's R&D team, she selects the correct products for each customer's situation and develops new ones to solve old problems.

Reducing friction in customer relationships

Kemira’s range of best-in-class friction reducers (FR’s) provides solutions to common problems experienced by oilfield operators in hydraulic fracturing. But choosing the right FR is not always easy. Luckily, experts like Roopa Tellakula, Senior Research Scientist, R&D and Technology, work hard to demystify this complex field for customers. “FR’s are polyacrylamide additives that reduce friction forces and turbulence in pipes, decreasing horsepower demand and allowing fluids to flow more efficiently,” explains Roopa, starting from the very basics. “Reducing the friction reduces the amount of energy needed, lengthens the maintenance cycle, and protects equipment.”

Innovation never stops

Despite the current uncertain market situation, Roopa keenly points out that research continues. “Although the market conditions are challenging, research goes on no matter what. Customers are more sensitive to costs, but sustainability goals remain. Finding the right solution to these competing challenges requires specialist research, and Kemira is known in the industry for the quality of our products, leading the way in FR innovation,” she says.

“When developing new FR technology, our research process begins by combining market intelligence with customer collaboration to make sure we are truly answering the needs of the industry,” explains Roopa. “One market trend is very clear: we will need to use less freshwater as time goes on. Freshwater is mostly being replaced with produced water that is treated and then reused, which typically requires a FR that is highly tolerant to total dissolved solids (TDS). We have improved chemistries that work very well in high-salinity water, which can increase recyclability and reduce the cost of water treatment or disposal. Our ultimate goal is to develop a universal high-viscosity FR that generates good friction reduction and builds viscosity whatever the conditions are, but until we achieve that goal, we’ll match every customer to the right FR according to their specific application conditions.”

Comparing dry and liquid polymers

Another market trend has been the move away from liquid emulsions. “All FR’s used to be liquid emulsions, but recently we’ve seen a huge trend towards using dry powders, some of which are in slurry form,” Roopa shares. “Emulsions are a widely adopted technology and easy to apply, but they can separate in long-term storage or freeze at low temperatures, whereas dry FR’s don’t have these limitations. Dry FR’s have a long shelf-life and much higher polymer activity levels than emulsion products. Using dry FR’s can also simplify logistics and reduce trucking costs.”

“However, dry FR’s have limitations of their own,” Roopa points out. “They present a dust hazard and need to be mixed into a solution in the field, increasing the operation’s carbon footprint by requiring new hydration equipment on site. Performance from emulsions is better when compared between dry and liquid FR’s on an equal activity basis, so it’s important to be aware of their different benefits and drawbacks.”

Every application is unique

“With over 100 years of chemistry experience, we can formulate solutions for all kinds of challenging situations,” Roopa notes. “Each of our FR’s functions in a unique way, such as building viscosity in fresh water, in water with a high TDS content, or in liquids with high salinities. The source water for a frac job can change not only from region to region, but also from day to day. This is why we develop products for every inevitability, application, and condition, from fresh water to 100% produced water, and they all perform as well in the field as they do in the lab.”

“And because water chemistry constantly changes in the field, we design our FR’s to be adaptable,” explains Roopa. “For example, every time water is reused or recycled, the salinity increases and there are more dissolved solids over time. Because our products have a wider operating window, even if the TDS goes up by a few thousand ppm, our products will still perform. We work together with customers to recommend the right product for their conditions and then help with testing to make sure they get the most out of it. Constant communication is key to good customer relationships – we listen and then deliver results.”

Working together for the best results

Finding the right FR for specific conditions takes a lot of expertise, so working together with Kemira takes away any guesswork. “Friction reduction numbers don’t tell the entire story and total dissolved solids are not always a good indicator of product performance,” explains Roopa. “Water chemistry plays a huge role, and there is no industry standard for flow loops – everything is custom made and built by each lab. For example, our maximum is about 68% friction reduction, but there are loops that generate 80%. With high-viscosity FR’s, viscosity comes into the equation. In high salinity water the viscosity is low, but in freshwater the viscosity is quite high. This can adjust the flow field in the pipe and change the result if the concentration of the FR is not adjusted. Just looking at a product brochure won’t reveal this, so you have to pay attention to the loop set up, the dosage rates, and the water chemistry to see what can be achieved in the field. Because of these variables, we always work with our customers to explain the lab results and what it means for their application.”

And this emphasis on collaboration doesn’t stop with delivery. “We’re constantly communicating with our customers to find out what’s going on in the field, then tweaking and optimizing our chemistries where necessary,” says Roopa. “This emphasis on working together, combined with high product quality and constant innovation is what makes Kemira stand out. We not only meet our customers’ needs, but we exceed them. Well, that’s what motivates me to keep going into work each day!”

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Name
Roopa Tellakula
Title
Senior Research Scientist, R&D and Technology
At Kemira since
2012
Based in
Atlanta, GA, USA
Topics to watch
One product that does it all: at low dosages acts as an FR and at high dosages acts as a proppant carrier that works across all salinities.
Words to live by
Work hard in silence and let success make the noise.
What motivates me
Being in R&D, it’s the opportunity to make innovative products that exceed customer needs.

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