Reservoir-on-a-Chip Technology Opens a New Window Into Oilfield Chemistry
- Trent Jacobs (JPT Digital Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- January 2019
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 25 - 27
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With its ability to replicate little slivers of reservoir rocks, microfluidics is giving the oil and gas industry a new way to capture images of interactions between chemicals and hydrocarbons. The biggest advantage this emerging technology holds over more established research tools is that it can capture the images at all.
“You actually see what it looks like when the oil, water, and chemistry all interact, and that means we are making direct measurements of the performance characteristics,” explained Stuart Kinnear, the chief executive officer of Interface Fluidics.
The Edmonton, Alberta-based startup of just 3 years is generating increasing interest among operators and suppliers that want independent reviews of whether particular production-enhancing chemicals will work inside a reservoir as advertised. The work places it amid a small group of firms trying to take microfluidics from its native home in the biomedical sector and into the oil field.
Interface Fluidics’ innovation is a type of microfluidic chip that is etched from a postage-stamp-sized strip of silicon and glass to form what it calls a “reservoir analogue.” Depending on the inputs, such as data obtained from rock samples or even industry literature, a blank chip can in a matter of a few hours be turned into a tiny duplicate of a porous sandstone from Alberta or the nanodarcy pathways of the Permian Basin’s Wolfcamp Shale.
So far, more than 20 different types of formations have been replicated for projects involving heavy-oil extraction, hydraulic fracturing fluid analysis, and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) for shale.
“We can also copy-and-paste to make a hundred or a thousand copies if you wanted to,” added Kinnear, highlighting another advantage that microfluidics offers over relying solely on analysis of real rock samples: repeatability. Thanks to the chip-making process, “you know the only thing you are changing run to run is the chemistry.”
To simulate reservoir-like conditions, the chips are heated, pressurized, and loaded with samples of the crude and water from the look-alike’s actual field. Videos taken as chemicals are introduced reveal how the medley of fluids mobilize around the artificial pore structures and get oil flowing, or not. Kinnear described this element as the technology’s “killer app.”
Because each chip is transparent on one side, a microscope-mounted camera can be used to document experiments with high resolution. Prized by first-adopters, the recordings explain what drives flow behavior, e.g., phase trapping, wettability modification, solids deposition, or emulsion.
First Adopters See Wide Applicability
For at least one chemical maker, that window into porosity has become a critical tool for validating its own emerging technology, a new line of nanosurfactants tailored for shale reservoirs.
“The visual aspect is something we’ve never had before, and that really helps us understand what’s going on,” said Bill O’Neil, the research director at ChemTerra Innovation, the chemical subsidiary of Calgary-based service provider Trican Well Service. Its pilot with Interface Fluidics, details of which were published in March (SPE 189780), resulted in the company moving forward with a significantly larger study that is still underway.
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