CO2 Thickeners for Enhanced Oil and Gas Recovery

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OPEN 2012
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Project Term:
05/01/2013 - 04/30/2016

Technology Description:

The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) is developing a compound to increase the viscosity of—or thicken—liquid carbon dioxide (CO2). This higher-viscosity CO2 compound could be used to improve the performance of enhanced oil recovery techniques. Crude oil is found deep below the surface of the earth in layers of sandstone and limestone, and one of the ways to increase our ability to recover it is to inject a high-pressure CO2 solvent into these layers. Unfortunately, because the solvent is less viscous—or thinner—than oil, it is not robust enough to uniformly sweep the oil out of the rock and toward the oil well. Pitt’s CO2-thickeners would improve the performance of the solvents involved in this process, allowing it to carry higher concentrations of oil to the surface. The thickeners would decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of enhanced oil recovery, and could also serve to enable liquid CO2 as a replacement for the water used during recovery, offering significant environmental benefits.

Potential Impact:

If successful, Pitt’s CO2-thickener would enable cost-effective oil recovery, converting a potentially harmful greenhouse gas into a useful solvent that improves our energy security.


Enhanced oil recovery technologies could reduce our need for foreign oil imports.


Enabling inexpensive enhanced oil recovery using liquid CO2 instead of water would significantly reduce the environmental risks associated with the process.


The U.S. imports nearly $1 billion in petroleum each day. Expanding access to domestic resources will allow us to keep more dollars at home.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Eric Rohlfing
Project Contact:
Prof. Robert M. Enick
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


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