A novel method of delivering thermal energy efficiently for flow assurance and for improved heavy oil production/transport is described. The method, an improved form of magnetic induction heating, uses superparamagnetic nanoparticles that generate heat locally when exposed to a high frequency magnetic field oscillation, via a process known as Neel relaxation. This concept is currently used in biomedicine to locally heat and burn cancerous tissues.
Dependence of the rate of heat generation by commercially available, single-domain Fe3O4 nanoparticles of ∼10 nm size, on the magnetic field strength and frequency was quantified. Experiments were conducted for nanoparticles dispersed in water, in hydrocarbon liquid, and embedded in a thin, solid film dubbed "nanopaint". For a stationary fluid heat generation increases linearly with loading of nanoparticles. The rate of heat transfer from the nanopaint to a flowing fluid was up to three times greater than the heat transfer rate to a static fluid.
Heating of nanopaint with external magnetic field application has immediate potential impact on oil and gas sector, because such coating could be applied to inner surfaces of pipelines and production facilities. A nanoparticle dispersion could also be injected into the reservoir zone or gravel pack near the production well, so that a thin, adsorbed layer of nanoparticles is created on pore walls. With localized inductive heating of those surfaces, hydrate formation or wax deposition could be prevented; and heavy oil production/transport could be improved by creating a ‘slippage layer’ on rock pore walls and inner surfaces of transport pipes.