Zeng, Dr. Hongbo

2021 Finalist: Researcher of the Year sponsored by Innovate Calgary

Dr. Hongbo ZengDr. Hongbo Zeng’s pioneering work develops and applies state-of-the-art nanomechanical techniques to interfacial interactions

The interaction of emulsion drops and gas bubbles in complex fluids play critical roles in a wide range of engineering applications, such as bitumen liberation and froth treatment, froth flotation of mineral particles, and programmable drug and gene delivery.

In Alberta’s oil sands industry, bitumen froth quality and bitumen recovery are largely influenced by the interactions among bitumen, air bubbles and mineral solids, which are dictated by their interfacial properties and the complex composition of the processing media (caustic, surfactants, ionic species). Efficient attachment of air bubbles onto bitumen surface can greatly enhance the separation of bitumen and mineral particles and increase the bitumen recovery efficiency.  The presence of undesired water drops and fine solids in diluted bitumen have caused serious technical challenges in related industrial processes which also drastically increases the industrial operation costs. Collaborating with industrial partners, Dr. Zeng has conducted pioneering work on the experimental quantification of the interactions among deformable objects (e.g., emulsions, bubbles) and fine particles in complex fluids and developed effective solutions to address these challenging issues.

One of the keys to Dr. Zeng’s success is the advances he has made in nanomechanical tools and methodologies

He has pushed forward to translate basic molecular/interfacial interaction mechanisms into functional materials/surfaces with practical applications in natural resources engineering (petroleum production, mineral processing) and environmental engineering (wastewater treatment). His research has had an enormous impact on related engineering processes, interfacial science and colloidal chemistry, as well as the natural resource industries. He was the first to couple the atomic force microscope with reflective interferometry and the drop/bubble probe technique to synchronously quantify interaction forces and spatiotemporal evolution at the nanoscale.

Dr. Zeng’s collaborative research with industrial partners has not only significantly improved the fundamental understanding of the related oil/water/gas/solid interactions in these engineering processes, but also successfully identified effective chemicals (e.g., demulsifiers, reverse demulsifiers, antifoulants), established proper operation conditions for the related processes (e.g., demulsification).

Dr. Zeng has made significant ground-breaking work on developing and applying state-of-the-art nanomechanical techniques and on how intermolecular and surface interactions in soft materials determine their physicochemical properties and performance in various engineering processes. His research results have been used by many researchers and industries to build new materials/products and improve the natural resource technologies.

Dr. Zeng’s is recognized as a global leader in colloids and interfacial science, particularly on intermolecular and surface interactions in engineering processes. Dr. Zeng’s expertise is highly sought after by industry. He has delivered many invited lectures on interfacial science for industry worldwide to Shell, Syncrude, COSIA, Schlumberger, Teck, BP plc and Dow Chemical.

“Dr. Zeng’s excellent work has significantly advanced the development and selection of suitable chemicals for treating emulsions and process water under different operation conditions for ChampionX. His research results have also benefitted ChampionX for innovative application of chemistry in oil sands process. ChampionX is working with Syncrude Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and NSERC to jointly support Dr. Zeng and his lab to develop new chemicals and solutions to remove the water residues from diluted bitumen.”

Song Gao, PhD, P.Eng
Senior RDE Manager