Nanoparticles (diameter of approximately 5 to 50 nm) easily pass through typical pore throats in reservoirs, but physicochemical attraction between nanoparticles and pore walls may still lead to significant retention. We conducted an extensive series of nanoparticle-transport experiments in core plugs and in columns packed with crushed sedimentary rock, systematically varying flow rate, type of nanoparticle, injection-dispersion concentration, and porous-medium properties. Effluent-nanoparticle-concentration histories were measured with fine resolution in time, enabling the evaluation of nanoparticle adsorption in the columns during slug injection and post-flushes. We also applied this analysis to nanoparticle-transport experiments reported in the literature.
Our analysis suggests that nanoparticles undergo both reversible and irreversible adsorption. Effluent-nanoparticle concentration reaches the injection concentration during slug injection, indicating the existence of an adsorption capacity. Experiments with a variety of nanoparticles and porous media yield a wide range of adsorption capacities (from 10–5 to 101 mg/g for nanoparticles and rock, respectively) and also a wide range of proportions of reversible and irreversible adsorption. Reversible- and irreversible-adsorption sites are distinct and interact with nanoparticles independently. The adsorption capacities are typically much smaller than monolayer coverage. Their values depend not only on the type of nanoparticle and porous media, but also on the operating conditions, such as injection concentration and flow rate.