Columbia University

Technology Ventures

Waterless hydraulic fracturing with on-site fluid treatment

Technology #cu15062

Hydraulic fracturing has emerged as an economical method to collect tight oil deposits and natural gas by injecting high-pressure fluids underground to induce cracks in deep shale formations. The most commonly used fluid is a mixture of water, chemicals, and proppant materials. However, the fluid may become contaminated by metal sources from the surrounding environment, and the use of water-based fracturing fluids imposes a heavy demand on the local water supply. This technology is a method for waterless hydraulic fracturing that uses supercritical carbon dioxide to induce fracture in conjunction with functionalized proppant materials to immobilize metal contamination. This technique may thus be used as a sustainable method of hydraulic fracturing that reduces environmental contamination and reliance on water supply.

Functional groups attached to proppant materials immobilize metal contaminants

Although recent advancements in hydraulic fracturing have provided access to large reservoirs of untapped oil and natural gas sources, there are significant environmental concerns that accompany the procedure. To avoid potential contamination of groundwater sources, expensive off-site techniques are currently used to remove metal contaminants from the fracturing fluid. However, this technology makes in situ fluid treatment possible by attaching functional groups with high affinity towards heavy metals to the proppant material structure. These functionalized proppants therefore serve a dual role to maintain fracture opening while simultaneously immobilizing metal contaminants. Furthermore, supercritical carbon dioxide has been shown to induce three-dimensional fracturing over a larger area compared to a water-based fluid. This technique may therefore offer improved resource yield in addition to a convenient method for fluid treatment.

The feasibility of this approach has been studied by exposing extracted shale samples to supercritical CO2. Both thermogravimetric and BET analyses of the shale confirmed the ability of supercritical CO2 to be used as a fracturing agent.

Lead Inventor:

Ah-Hyung Alissa Park, Ph.D.


  • Sustainable method of hydraulic fracturing
  • Enhanced fracture induction using supercritical CO2
  • Fracturing fluid treatment technique


  • Waterless fracture induction
  • On-site decontamination of fracturing fluid

Patent Information:

Patent Pending

Tech Ventures Reference: IR CU15062