The oil and gas industry is facing difficult challenges as it tries to supply the increasing energy demands of a growing population. Conventional resources and exploration and production techniques might not be sufficient to attend to this demand. Nanotechnology can offer some solutions to these challenges.
Nanotechnology has had an enormous impact in almost every industry, from consumer electronics to healthcare and telecommunications, but not in oil and gas exploration and production. Although nano-sized catalysts have been used in refining and petrochemical processes for many years, the use of nanomaterials and nanotechniques has only recently entered the upstream domain. The largest impact within the upstream business is expected in subsurface applications, for instance contrast agents for advanced exploration and surveillance, novel fluids for enhanced oil recovery, and better analytical techniques for the characterization of oil and rock interactions. This paper will showcase some of the applications of nanotechnology to the exploration and production business, with particular emphasis on the needs to scale up the technologies from bench-top to reservoir size.
The Oil and Gas exploration and production industry faces difficult challenges, as it tries to meet the growing energy demands of an increasing and more affluent population. Conventional methods of exploration and production might not be able to keep up with this growing demand; the industry needs technological innovations to successfully meet the energy challenge. Nanotechnology has had a revolutionary impact in many industries, from healthcare to aeronautics, and could potentially have a similar impact in the oil and gas exploration and production industry.
Nanotechnology is not new. Nanoparticles have been used for hundreds and even thousand of years1, even though their nature and properties were not fully understood until recently. The oil refining and petrochemical industries have used nanoparticle catalysts for almost 100 years. What has triggered a nanotechnology revolution was the developments of techniques in materials science, chemical engineering, and physical analytical methods, particularly the invention of the Scanning Tunneling Microscope2 and the discovery of Buckyballs3 that allowed a detailed understanding and manipulation of the properties of nanoparticles4. For clarity, I define nanotechnology as the understanding and control of materials and materials properties at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. The emphasis is on control - the manipulation and engineering of materials at the nanoscale to obtain desired properties.
Nanotechnology is about both the nanomaterials themselves and the tools to make and characterize them.
Particulate materials that have one dimension in the order of 100 nm or less are called nanoparticles. Examples include fullerenes, graphene, carbon nanotubes, quantum dots and a variety of polymeric, metallic and metal oxides. At these dimensions, surface and quantum mechanics phenomena become significant, and the behavior of nanoparticles is quite different from that of their bulk counterparts. For instance, gold nanoparticles can adopt a range of colors depending on their size, graphene and other carbon structures show an unusual combination of mechanical, electrical and thermal properties, and nano-structured surfaces can become superhydrophobic, essentially non-wetted by water.