Nanotechnology for Sale: The Once-Theoretical Becomes Practical
- Stephen Rassenfoss (JPT/JPT Online Staff Writer)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- October 2011
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 32 - 38
- 2011. Copyright is held partially by SPE. Contact SPE for permission to use material from this document.
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The magic of nanotechnology is on display in the form of a dull silver ball created by Baker Hughes.
What looks like solid metal is a composite that is light enough to flow through a well, strong enough to stand up to the impact and pressure associated with opening a sleeve on a multistage fracturing job, and then disappear when it is done.
The company is making 1,500 of the balls each week and based on customer calls, it could sell a lot more, said James King, director of applications engineering for sales and operations support at Baker Oil Tools, US Land. The company plans to increase sales, and add new products, but the supply of the material used to make the balls is limited.
Producers see value in the balls because that expense is considerably less than the value of the production lost if a ball gets stuck during fracturing, blocking the flow from downhole. What looks like aluminum is a nanomaterial the company calls In-Tallic, which combines magnesium, aluminum, and other alloys. It is one of a class of materials called nano-structured metal composites that offer both strength and the ability to “dissolve” away under certain conditions.
The balls are far from the first product engineered to take advantage of the growing understanding of how to take the unique properties observed at nanoscale—generally 100 nanometers (nm) or less—and build those characteristics into products.
Tougher coatings using nanomaterials have been around for a while. In-Tallic balls stand out as an example of how nanotechnology can do things that otherwise would not be possible. The balls’ relatively short 18-month development period also shows what has been learned about engineering nanotechnology into products. “We are looking for ways to break that performance envelope,” said Gaurav Agrawal, director of enterprise research at Baker Hughes.
But it is not indicative of the time, effort, and barriers to acceptance more often faced by those creating products with nanotechnology for exploration and production (E&P).
“New generation materials can sell consumer products, but you cannot sell oilfield tools by saying it is nano,” said Jeff Bahr, chief executive officer (CEO) of NanoComposites, a company that uses carbon nanomaterials to develop polymers for uses such as high performance seals.
Oilfield buyers are not averse to nanotechnology, but the focus is on solving difficult problems, not on whether this hard-to-define technology was used. “Customers eyes glaze over when you start talking about how you used nanotechnology,” said Dore Rosenblum, CEO of Sub-One Technology, which makes pipe coatings.
One indication of the interest in applying nanotechnology is the list of oil companies doing research and development work. They include ConocoPhillips, Saudi Aramco, and Shell.
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