Maini, Dr. Brij

2013 Finalist: Innovation In Oil Sands Research Sponsored By Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Passion For Oil Sands Leads To Groundbreaking Research

Dr. Brij Maini attributes his healthy appetite for learning to his upbringing in a village in India where he didn’t have access to television or the Internet.

“I had the time to observe nature and to see how things work,” explains the professor in the department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary. “I still have that desire, and it inspires me to research new things and learn as much as I can. I consider myself a professional student.”

That passion has led Dr. Maini to become an expert in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) of heavy oils and bitumen, particularly in applications in Canadian heavy oil reservoirs.

The Future of Alberta

He says that for Alberta, where conventional oil fields are running low, the future lies in bitumen and heavy oil. At the same time, pressure from environmental groups is upping the bar for environmental protection while extracting the resource.

“There’s a lot of demand for innovative technology that we need to develop to meet our goals – food and shelter and a good standard of living,” he says. “If I’m able to contribute in some small way to benefit society, I will.”

The Leading-Edge

Recognizing the opportunity to do groundbreaking work, Dr. Maini took a position with the Petroleum Recovery Institute (PRI) in 1979. He stayed for 20 years and became well known as a researcher who took the experimental work to uncharted territory by designing novel equipment that could withstand harsh conditions of high temperatures and pressures.

While at PRI, Dr. Maini served as an adjunct professor at the Universities of Alberta, Calgary and Regina. He took a full-time faculty position at the University of Calgary in 1999.

There Dr. Maini developed laboratory facilities for oil sands research and a new research group called IHOST, (improved heavy oil science and technology). The group of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and technologists develops understanding, improved performance and increased applicability of heavy oil recovery processes to a wider range of formations.

Over the 14 years that he has been a faculty member, Dr. Maini has supervised or co-supervised 24 Ph.D., 22 M.Sc. and more than 50 M.Eng. students.

“Basically I work with them, solving experimental problems, formulating new ideas and helping them resolve difficulties in their research,” he says. “It makes my day.”

Working Tirelessly

Dr. Maini has authored 86 peer-reviewed journal papers and more than 100 conference papers. In recognition of his contributions to the literature, the Society of Petroleum Engineers gave him the Improved Oil Recovery Pioneer award. Recently, he also won the Schulich School of Engineering’s Research Excellence Award, given annually to one professor based on research productivity.

Although many of Dr. Maini’s peers have retired, he continues working because he still finds it rewarding. He and two other professors are conducting experiments to determine how to upgrade bitumen right in the oil sands mine, eliminating the need to send it off site for upgrading.

“I hope to do the field tests before I retire,” he says.”