With a number of advantages hitherto unrecognized, nanoparticle-stabilized emulsions and foams have recently been proposed for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) applications. Long-distance transport of nanoparticles is a prerequisite for any such applications. The transport of the particles is limited by the degree to which the particles are retained by the porous medium. In this work, experiments that quantify the retention and provide insight into the mechanisms for nanoparticle retention in porous media are described. Sedimentary rock samples (Boise sandstone and Texas Cream limestone) were crushed into single grains and sieved into narrow grain size fractions. In some cases, clay (kaolinite or illite) was added to the Boise sandstone samples. These grain samples were packed into long (1 ft–9 ft) slim tubes (ID = 0.93 cm) to create unconsolidated sandpack columns.

The columns were injected with aqueous dispersions of silica-core nanoparticles (with and without surface coating) and flushed with brine. The nanoparticle effluent concentration history was measured and the nanoparticle recovery was calculated as a percentage of the injected nanoparticle dispersion. Fifty experiments were performed in this fashion, varying different experimental parameters while maintaining others constant to allow direct comparisons between experiments. The parameters analyzed in this work are: specific surface area of the porous medium, lithology, brine salinity, interstitial velocity, residence time, column length, and temperature.

Our results indicate that retention is not severe, with an 8% average of the injected amount, for all our experiments. Of the parameters analyzed, specific surface area was the most influential, with a linear effect on nanoparticle retention independently of lithology. Larger salinity increased nanoparticle retention slightly and delayed nanoparticle arrival. Velocity, residence time and sandpack length are coupled parameters and were studied jointly; they had a minor effect on retention. Temperature had a marginal effect, with two percentage points greater retention at 80°C compared to 21°C. Both surface coated and bare silica nanoparticles were successfully transported, so surface coating is not a prerequisite for transport for the particle and rock systems studied.

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