Nanotechnology Products Hold Promise for E&P
- Alan Rae (NanoDynamics and (Consultant) Epik Energy Solutions)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- October 2008
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 24 - 26
- 2008. 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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The oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) industry is going through an interesting transition. When new reservoirs were being discovered on land, at reasonable depths and with reasonable chemistries, the need to change materials was limited, and there was little pressure to improve the technologies used to explore for and extract hydrocarbons. How things have changed! Sour wells, complex reservoirs, high temperatures, low temperatures, high viscosities—to name just a few changing parameters. Combine this with tightening environmental regulations at the well, on the platform, and at the refinery and you have a ‘perfect storm’ of changing materials needs.
Some things haven’t changed. E&P is still a mature industry that counts every penny. We may have discovered all of the readily extractible, large-scale reservoirs—such discoveries are now scarce at best—and hence we need to extract the remaining molecules as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. We certainly don’t need costly “rocket science” solutions to our materials problems.
It always seems to be an exciting time in the materials business. In the 1950s it was aerospace alloys. In the 60s and 70s it was plastics and the space race, the 70s and 80s ceramics; the 90s had optoelectronics and the other materials of the information technology revolution. The last decade has been nanotechnology’s time in the sun. Those who have spent careers in the materials industry recognize a number of common factors in all of these—for high performance you need pure, small-grained, and reactive materials in pure or composite form.
Nanotechnology isn’t really new; it only became an area for research when we could image and measure it, and therefore manage it. New tools such as the atomic-force microscope and improved electron microscopes enable us to measure—and thus control—the size and the size-related properties of nanometer- (nm-) scale particles and structures.
Micron- (1000 nm-) sized products such as paint pigments are common; subnanometer-sized products are atoms and small molecules. So what is so special about the 1–100-nm realm? It all comes down to structure and reactivity. Small particles have relatively more surface atoms looking to form bonds with their neighbors than large particles. Their size means they are too small to scatter light (hence their use in sunscreens and automobile clear-coat). They can react at low temperatures, below 200°C, to form useful structures (as in printed electronics). Their structures may contain nanosized pores for selective absorption and controlled release (zeolites and nanotubes) or can develop exceptional strength (as seen with carbon nanotubes in sporting goods). They can have unusual biological, thermal, magnetic, optical, or electrical properties (giant magneto resistance, quantum dots).
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