Houston University scientists have developed a new cost-effective, non-toxic nanofluid to efficiently recover even heavy oil with high viscosity from reservoirs.
According to the scientists, all one requires to make the nanofluid is commercially available sodium and a household blender. This composition allows for recovery of 80% of extra-heavy oil with a viscosity of more than 400,000 centipoise at room temperature.
Nevertheless, the above stat is exclusive to lab tests and in real world conditions, it is expected to be less than 80%, notes corresponding author, professor Zhifeng Ren.
Heavy oil – the result of the molecular structure of the oil – makes up 70% of global oil reserves – suggesting it will be needed to meet increasing energy demands until clean energy sources are fully developed.
The drawback: Current extraction technologies that involve the use of steam are expensive and environmentally damaging.
Ren and his team are hoping to remedy this with their game-changing nanofluid; it recovers oil from the reservoir through at least three mechanisms.
The first step involves a chemical reaction produced when the sodium nanoparticles come in contact with water in the reservoir generates heat.
It works much like steam flooding and other heat-based techniques to push oil from the reservoir, without the need for an external source of carbon-hungry heat.
Simultaneously, the nanofluid also sparks a reaction producing sodium hydroxide, a chemical commonly used for alkaline flooding in oil fields.
According to the scientists, sodium hydroxide can foment motion in the oil and spark a reaction that reduces viscosity.
The third reaction involves the production of hydrogen gas, which can be used for gas flooding – another common oil recovery technique.
According to the scientists, the sodium nanomaterials dissipate after the reaction, eliminating concerns about environmental damage.
Since sodium is highly reactive with water and exposing it to water too soon meant it wouldn’t deliver the designed benefits, Ren and his team prepared the sodium nanoparticles in a silicone oil.
This allows the sodium to disperse throughout the reservoir before it came into contact with water in the reservoir, triggering smaller chemical reactions across a larger area.
According to the scientists, the nanofluild can also be used in the production of light oil – as well as for more general household uses, such as clearing a grease-clogged pipe.
Image and content: Bloomberg/University of Houston