Nanotechnology Advances in the Oil Field
As I write this introduction, the 2017 Offshore Technology Conference will begin in a week or so. What impresses me at that conference each and every year is the application of new technologies that really put our industry at the cutting-edge of scientific developments. As practitioners we don’t always convey that the oil and gas industry is at the forefront of many different technologies, but we should, if only because it can be a real selling point to attract young people to our industry.
In that spirit, I selected three papers that deal with nanotechnology, which is defined by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (www.nano.gov) as the design and application of particles with at least one dimension in the order of 1 to 100 nanometers. And just to be clear, a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter (10-9 m). The potential of this technology is mind boggling. It may result in new materials that allow us to build equipment in ways that are impossible today, but it could also allow us to fundamentally alter processes like dehydration. The possibilities are endless.
The first paper (SPE 183301) was presented late last year at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference. It presents an overview of the nanotechnology for oilfield applications. If you have time to read just one paper, read this one as it presents a very good overview of the potential use of the technology within our industry.
The other two papers deal with topics more specifically related to oil and gas facilities, the scope of this publication. One deals with the use of nanotechnology in heat exchangers (SPE 181179), and I was intrigued by the opening sentences of the abstract: “In this work we demonstrate … the possibility of using a radio-frequency heating system as a heat exchanger. … The system consists of a pipe packed with nano-particle-doped, superparamagnetic spheres as the bed material”. I think it is fair to say that not many of us have been thinking about heat exchangers along those lines, and yet it may well become common practice in the not so distant future.
The last paper also had an intriguing sentence in the abstract: “… using magnetic nanoparticles … is a promising way to overcome the difficulties that the current … technologies face”. The paper (SPE 181893) deals with the removal of highly stable dispersed oil in water during oil recovery processes and the approach described may very well become standard. The underlying thought is exactly why I wanted to cover this topic: This cutting-edge technology offers new avenues for problems we face today, and the sooner we familiarize ourselves with that technology, the better.
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