Applications of Nanotechnology in Oil and Gas E&P
- Saeid Mokhatab (U. of Wyoming) | Mariela Araujo Fresky (Imperial College) | M. Rafiqul Islam (Dalhousie U.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- April 2006
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 48 - 51
- 2006. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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Special Feature: Applications of Nanotechnology in Oil and Gas E&P
Saeid Mokhatab, U. of Wyoming; Mariela Araujo Fresky, Imperial College, London; and M. Rafiqul Islam, Dalhousie U.
Over the next 30 years, global energy demand is projected to rise as high as almost 60%, a challenging trend that may be met only by revolutionary breakthroughs in energy science and technology. The industry needs stunning discoveries in underlying core science and engineering. Breakthroughs in nanotechnology open up the possibility of moving beyond the current alternatives for energy sup-ply by introducing technologies that are more efficient and environmentally sound. Nanotechnology is characterized by collaboration among diverse disciplines, making it inherently innovative and more precise than other technologies. Such a technology may be the cornerstone of any future energy technology that offers the greatest potential for innovative solutions.
“Nano” denotes a thousand millionths (10−9), with a nanometer equaling a millionth of a millimeter. That corresponds to the width of 10 hydrogen atoms. So the nanotechnologist is concerned with building new structures and substances by manipulating molecules and atoms on this scale. Technically, nanotechnology is the art and science of building materials that act at the nanometer scale. It builds at the ultimate level of finesse, one atom at a time, and it does it with molecular perfection. In a general sense, nanotechnology is the ability to create and manipulate matter at the molecular level that makes it possible to create materials with improved (or, more accurately, altered) properties, such as being both lightweight and having ultrahigh strength, and greater capabilities such as in electrical and heat conductivity. Another research approach is known as top-down nanofabrication, which involves working with bulk materials and reducing them to nanometer size. This is most common in currently used technology development schemes.
Nanotechnology is exciting because the science and engineering behind it are largely unknown. In fact, most scientists are aware that the laws that govern materials at nanoscale are very different from those that have been widely accepted in larger scales (Islam 2004). Recent work by Nobel Prize physicist Richard Smalley of Rice U. supports this hypothesis. He discovered that carbon nanotubes (Fig. 1) and fullerenes (buckyballs), nanoparticles of carbon, which are conventionally characterized as graphite, behaved in ways unlike graphite (Smalley and Yakobsonb 1998; Zhou et al. 2005).
Scientific inquiry in the energy area is scattered and unfocused, with various groups working separately to gain research dollars for uncoordinated pursuits that lack a clear road map to a better energy future (Baker Inst. Study 2005). But nanotechnology is poised to impact dramatically on all sectors of industry (Fig. 2). In oil and gas applications, nanotechnology could be used to increase opportunities to develop geothermal resources by enhancing thermal conductivity, improving downhole separation, and aiding in the development of noncorrosive materials that could be used for geothermal-energy production. Nanoscale metals already have been used to delineate ore deposits for geochemical exploration (Wang et al. 1997).
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