Utilisation of microorganisms as an enhanced oil recovery (EOR) method has attracted much attention in recent years because it is a low-cost and environmentally friendly technology. However, the pore-scale mechanisms involved in MEOR that contribute to an additional oil recovery are not fully understood so far. This work aims to investigate the MEOR mechanisms using microfluidic technology, among others bioplugging and changes in fluid mobilities. Further, the contribution of these mechanisms to additional oil recovery was quantified.
A novel experimental setup that enables investigation of MEOR in micromodels under elevated pressure, reservoir temperature and anaerobic and sterile conditions was developed. Initially, single-phase experiments were performed with fluids from a German high-salinity oil field selected for a potential MEOR application: Brine containing bacteria and nutrients was injected into the micromodel. During ten days of static incubation, bacterial cells and in-situ gas production were visualised and quantified by using an image processing algorithm. After that, injection of tracer particles and particle image velocimetry were performed to evaluate flow diversion in the micromodel due to bioplugging. Differential and absolute pressures were measured throughout the experiments. Further, two-phase flooding experiments were performed in oil wet and water wet micromodels to investigate the effect of in-situ microbial growth on oil recovery.
In-situ bacteria growth was observed in the micromodel for both single and two-phase flooding experiments. During the injection, cells were partly transported through the micromodel but also remained attached to the model surface. The increase in differential pressure confirmed these microscopic observations of bioplugging. Also, the resulting permeability reduction factor correlated with calculations based on the Kozeny-Carman approach using the total number of bacteria attached. The flow diversion of the tracer particles and the differences in velocity field also confirmed that bioplugging occurred in the micromodel may lead to an improved conformance control. Oil viscosity reduction due to gas dissolution as well as changes in the wettability were also identified to contribute on the incremental oil. Two-phase flow experiments in a newly designed heterogeneous micromodel showed a significant effect of bioplugging and improved the macroscopic conformance of oil displacement process.
This work gives new insights into the pore-scale mechanisms of MEOR processes in porous media. The new experimental microfluidic setup enables the investigation of these mechanisms under defined reservoir conditions, i.e., elevated pressure, reservoir temperature and anaerobic conditions.