This paper presents results of an experimental study that systematically examined the propagation of nanodispersed catalyst suspension in sand packs at Athabasca reservoir conditions. The concentration and size distribution of the particles at the injection and production end were measured. The pressure drops in different segments along length of the sand pack were monitored continuously. The retention behavior of particles at the end of each experiment was examined by measuring the catalyst concentration in the bed as a function of the distance from injection end of the sand pack and also by analysis of extracted samples using scanning electron microscopy.

This research is a part of a large multidisciplinary effort aimed at developing a nanoparticles based process for in situ upgrading of heavy oil by catalytic hydrogenation during thermal recovery processes. An essential element of such in situ upgrading is the placement of nanodispersed catalyst particles deep into the formation where it can accelerate the high temperature upgrading reactions. Therefore, an understanding of the propagation behavior of nanoparticles in reservoir sand is essential for developing such technology. The results of this work would also be useful for modeling any other process involving transport of nanoparticles through porous media.

The results show that it is possible to propagate the nanodispersed catalyst suspension through sand beds without causing permeability damage but a small fraction of the injected particles are retained in the sand. It was found that much higher retention occurs in the entrance region of the bed and such retention was higher in the Athabasca sand beds than in clean silica sand with the same flow and suspension properties. A modified deep bed filtration model was developed to history match the macroscopic propagation behavior of suspended particles in sand beds.

To best of our knowledge, this is the first experimental study on transport of nanoparticles dispersed in viscous oil through sand beds. It provides valuable information on propagation and retention behavior of nanoparticles. Considering the rapidly rising use of nanoparticles in industry, such transport will be encountered in many industrial applications and environmental problems.

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