Nanotechnology has the potential to transform EOR mechanisms and processes. At present there are two major nanotechnology paradigms derived from mechanical engineering and the biological sciences perspectives. However, a new focus within nanotechnology is emerging which could be called geomimetics. We can define geomimetics as employing the principles of geosystems to create and develop new and novel processes and materials. In a wider sense this involves copying the principles of geosystems into technology to compliment the natural environment.

This geomimetic perspective of nanotechnology incorporates the long and distinguished history of colloid and surface science that has underpinned oil recovery and EOR. We give a concise definition of nanotechnology and demonstrate how it is applicable to EOR.

Through consideration of complexity and systems thinking, we develop a process based method of representing complicated phenomena to help identify the critical processes which control EOR. We construct a hierarchy from fundamental surface forces leading up to processes such as coalescence, phase swelling and film drainage. This hierarchy constitutes a mapping from fundamental molecular forces onto petroleum engineering concepts. In general this hierarchy is spatially-temporally ordered, although particular attention to the overall context and fluid / rock history is needed when mapping wetting and spreading phenomena. We identify critical processes and identify performance measurement criteria to monitor these processes.

We present a conceptual study and demonstrate how nanoscale processes can impact flow behaviour. We introduce the concept of Q analysis and highlight the importance of metaphorical discourse. Processes at the nanometre – micrometre scale including wettability, coalescence, Marangoni phenomena, mass transfer effects and transient phenomena are related to EOR. We argue it is at this scale, and with these phenomena, that an understanding of oil phase distribution, oil drop mobilisation, oil bank formation and oil bank migration is to be achieved for EOR processes.

We outline the potential of nanotechnology to transform the design and execution of chemical EOR. Through nanotechnology, we make explicit the connection between the disciplined study of fundamental molecular forces and the practical application of petroleum engineering.

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