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Innovation & Technology Center: Making the invisible visible

If it weren’t for the building’s impressive ability to rotate, you might think you were in a swish corporate headquarters when standing in the lobby of the OMV Innovation & Technology Center. But look closer and you will quickly realize that a thrilling journey to underground worlds is about to unfold.

„We’re showing the search for natural gas and crude oil and how they’re produced – a sphere in which a lot more goes on below the ground than above the surface. We want to make the invisible visible”, says Andreas Walk, the creative force behind the OMV Innovation & Technology Center (ITC). The “invisible” are OMV’s Upstream technologies, i.e. those deployed for the exploration and production of oil and gas.

The ITC opened in summer 2020 and is located at OMV’s Gänserndorf site (in the Austrian Weinviertel) – right in the middle of one of Europe’s oldest oil-producing areas and the cradle of OMV’s activities in research and innovation.

The idea originated with Johann Pleininger, OMV Executive Board member responsible for Upstream: “Weinviertel is OMV’s open-air laboratory. We produce oil directly outside our front door. This is the place we develop and improve our technologies, which we then roll out worldwide. The goal of ITC is to make this technological expertise visible.“

Weinviertel is OMV’s open-air laboratory. We produce oil directly outside our front door. This is the place we develop and improve our technologies, which we then roll out worldwide. The goal of ITC is to make this technological expertise visible.
Johann Pleininger, Chief Upstream Operations Officer, OMV Aktiengesellschaft

A quick round

The reception area again plays with the idea of rotation thanks to its rounded architecture and interplay of circular lighting. The reason why everything here seems to spin is straightforward: “The 15-degree angle of the building symbolizes the rotating movement of a drill string”, says Andreas Walk.

Climb just a few steps and you reach a door in darkness, as if in the middle of a huge drill. Visitors leave Weinviertel behind and travel to OMV production sites all over the world. They dive through different layers of rock and hydrocarbon deposits. All while getting an insight into the key technologies and how the OMV experts develop and improve these technologies.

In the OMV Innovation & Technology Center we’re showing the search for gas and oil and how they’re produced – a sphere in which a lot more goes on below the ground than above the surface. We want to make the invisible visible.
Andreas Walk, ITC Manager, OMV Exploration & Production GmbH

A 360° look at drilling technologies

After the multimedia show, the tour heads to the first three exhibition areas: Geology & Geophysics, Drilling and Artificial Lift, winding through the flashing “drills” and giving the visitors a front-row seat to the world of oil and gas exploration and production.

„We start with a conceptual cartographic model of the geology, without any technical aids as yet, only showing what we know might be below the surface”, explains Walk. This is presented on the wall as a relief in stone. Next come the seismic studies and the digitalization of the data: There’s a potential deposit here, but is there any oil – if yes, then how much? The findings of an exploration drilling can also determine the porosity. “The more porous the rock, the more effective it is for producing oil”, says Walk.

The way a drill bit “feels” is uncovered shortly afterwards in a model that reflects a real drilling campaign. Time lapse is used to reach depths of 2,500 meters in 17 days, moving first vertically, then horizontally. And, look, there’s the oil! The depths that can be needed are illustrated in another impressive exhibit: a drill core from a depth of 8,500 meters, or what German-speaking experts call the “Teufe”. This is the deepest drill core ever mined in Europe, black shale that was formed from sludge some 155 million years ago. And it was drilled a mere 25 kilometers away from ITC.

Now to the elite part

Curving around again and heading upwards to the next level of the exhibition: “What we have seen so far is the mandatory program. Now we get to the elite part. Here it’s all about efficiency and feats of technological excellence”, says Andreas Walk, whetting your appetite for the upcoming stations. Smart Oil Recovery, Material & Corrosion, Saltwater Treatment and Nanotechnology. It involves research and development, innovation – like the influence that saltwater has on materials and production.

Wait a minute! Why water? Still today, 15 percent of the natural gas Austria needs is produced in Weinviertel, along with 10 percent of its crude oil. But not many people know that it’s not only oil that spurts up during production, but also saltwater. More than 90 percent, in fact. “This is ancient, entrapped seawater from depths of up to 6,000 meters”

Naturally, oil, gas and water need to be separated. The important thing is that the water is properly purified, filtered and treated so that it can be safely returned to the reservoir and thereby maintain the natural pressure levels in the deposits. Innovative methods are used to clean the water – so it’s even more surprising that they involve simple walnut shells.

From inwards to outwards

Once you reach the very top of the building, a spectacular view opens up into the “real world” of the Weinviertel as visitors leave the exhibition. “We have christened this platform the ‘Energy Terrace’”, grins Andreas Walk. Quite a bit is revealed here: “A lot of the things we explored in the exhibition can also be seen outside”. And even more perhaps: with the naked eye and a virtual telescope, you can spot OMV’s horsehead pumps in the direct vicinity, along with wind turbines and a photovoltaic plant. The latter happens to be the largest in Austria – and also belongs to OMV.

The OMV Innovation & Technology Center in Weinviertel, Lower Austria.
With its rounded architecture and curved lights, the lobby mimics the movement of a drill string.
The deepest drill core ever drilled in Europe comes from a depth of more than 8,500 meters.
The exhibition is spread across two floors and starts with a multimedia show on the ground floor.
The interior of the ITC is based on an oversized drill bit.
A relief in rock in the exhibition areas Geology & Geophysics.
A virtual drilling journey uses time lapse to reach depths of 2,500 meters, drilling first vertically, then horizontally.
A tube-like casing that is used in casing drilling.
The “Artificial Lift” exhibit explains the options when there is a drop in pressure in the deposit and help is needed to bring the crude to the surface.
The second floor of the exhibition space explores “Enhanced Oil Recovery” – the efficiency and feats of technological excellence involved in crude oil production.
Discover how material and equipment is protected against rust in the areas “Materials & Corrosion”.
The Saltwater Treatment exhibit looks at how the water from the deposit is treated so that it comes to the surface together with the crude.
The “Energy Terrace” in the OMV Innovation & Technology Center with views over the Weinviertel.
Still today, the horsehead pumps of OMV in Weinviertel meet around a tenth of Austria’s oil and gas demand.
The OMV Innovation & Technology Center by night.

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