Release: Tapping into Energy Reserves

April 6, 2016 — By Laura R. Dickinson
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Measuring the stickiness of petroleum to rock surfaces leads to tailored recovery approaches that promise to be more effective and efficient than current techniques. Beyond its well-known use of powering cars, petroleum is also a vital part of many of the plastics and chemicals that we encounter every day. However, massive reserves of oil remain unavailable to current recovery techniques as the oil is trapped underground in rock pores and on rock surfaces. Flushing an oil reservoir with a tailored water injection solution holds promise for extracting this valuable resource, but developing a custom recipe for each reservoir has great challenges.

To develop these recipes, we invented a special microscopy probe coated in dried crude oil. We created this tool to measure the stickiness of the oil to a rock surface in mixtures of different water chemistries. The goal is to determine which injection solution recipe will cause the oil to separate or be repelled from the rock, so that it can be flushed from the reservoir.

2016-10_colloidal_tip.jpgThe figures to the right and on top show one of the probes we made in the lab and a piece of sandstone from an oil reservoir, respectively. These images highlight two of the challenges in studying these systems. Each color in the sandstone image represents a different type of rock, hinting at how complex the mineral composition of a reservoir can be. Additionally, the tiny size, rough surfaces, and varied shapes of these grains increase the difficulty in working with them. The sandstone scale bar is approximately the thickness of a human hair and the probe scale bar is ten times smaller.

Our paper detailing the development of this dried oil coated probe was published in ACS Energy & Fuels.

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