The advent of atomically accurate sensing and manipulation tools has spurred a widespread interest in nanotechnology with the prospect of reengineering matters and synthesizing functional systems at the nanoscale. This enabled thinking "outside-the-box" in valuable applications across different fields and industries and most recently included the upstream oil and gas sector. Nanotechnology could provide new tiny metering solutions to address wellbore and reservoir sensing requirements in-situ. And smart fluids are being used to enhance oil recovery, limit water production with the oil, and reduce drag and friction forces during drilling. The capabilities become limitless with the possibility of having functionalized molecular agents (Reservoir Nanoagents or Resbots) to "illuminate" the reservoir and intervene to alter adverse oil recovery conditions. The future reality of the reservoir nanoagents concept is herein lab and field demonstrated with the industry first building block nanoagents' design.


It has been stated on numerous occasions the prospect of nanotechnology in different areas of upstream E&P from the reality of corrosion resistant alloys and loss control materials to the vision of self-healing materials and look-ahead drilling agents (Kanj 2008; Kanj et al. 2008; Kanj et al. 2009). Potential dream applications for reservoir nanoagents (Resbots) include mapping tortuosities in the rock, identifying bypassed oil location and optimizing well placement, formulating realistic geological models of the underground, optimizing well design, delineating the extent of the asset, and target delivering chemicals to support enhanced oil recovery objectives. A number of Resbot types can be postulated based on functionality and the break-ups of the nanotechnology definition. The broad categories are:

  • Passive Agents: These can be thought of as a form of advanced DNA-tracers. Passive agents are bar-coded with the intent to cross-correlate injectors with producers in the field. These are examples of the incremental nanotechnology in upstream E&P.

  • Active Agents: These in-situ sensing agents are basically reservoir environment markers. Active agents work to capture the environment and perform fluid-typing activities during their journey between wells. This category is part of the evolutionary nanotechnology in upstream E&P.

  • Reactive Agents: These are in-situ intervention agents that work to rectify unfavorable recovery conditions as they are encountered in the underground. For example, these may act as shear thickening agents to optimize sweep or as nanocarriers to target deliver chemicals (surfactant) well beyond the near bore-hole region. These could be classified under radical or revolutionary nanotechnology in upstream E&P. This classification is only one dimensional in the space domain envisioned for mi-cro-nanotechnology (MNT) applications in upstream E&P. It reflects the activity scale in the cube of Figure 1. Figure 1 adds two additional dimensions: the agents' scale dimension (e.g. micro vs. nano) and their reporting capability (remote vs. direct interrogation). As such, the most sophisticated Resbots are the active/reactive agents that can report remotely about its status and the underground environment.

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