Environment News Service (ENS)
Environment News Service (ENS)

NanoSensors will go underground to boost oil production

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

A multimillion-dollar research consortium that will develop micro and nanotechnology devices to increase oil and gas production is taking shape in Texas.

The consortium's primary goal is to develop intelligent subsurface micro and nanosensors that can be injected into oil and gas reservoirs to help improve the recovery of existing and new hydrocarbon resources.

These tiny sensors would migrate out of the well bores and into the pores of the surrounding geological structure to collect data about the physical characteristics of hydrocarbon reservoirs. The data collected could enable the more efficient exploitation of hydrocarbon resources.

Using current technology, about 60 percent of oil remains underground after primary, secondary and in some cases even third level recovery methods. But with oil touching $100 per barrel already this year and national and international demand for energy growing, oil companies are seeking ways to get the most out of each geologic structure.

By using existing surface infrastructure, the technology attempts to minimize environmental impact.

Some of the world's largest energy companies are involved in creating the Advanced Energy Consortium, which will be based in Houston and managed from the University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology at the Jackson School of Geosciences.

Members of the privately funded consortium include BP America Inc., Baker Hughes Incorporated, ConocoPhillips, Halliburton Energy Services Inc., Marathon Oil Corp., Occidental Oil and Gas, and Schlumberger.

According to consortium officials, each founding company will contribute $1 million each year for the first three years of the project.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Anti-Trust Division said in August that it does not intend to challenge the proposal.

'The petroleum industry realizes there are exciting possibilities for the application of nanotechnologies that will provide a more comprehensive picture of existing oil and gas reserves,' said Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology.

Tinker and Jay Kipper, also of the Bureau of Economic Geology, are the consortium's managing directors.

The Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, which has extensive nanotechnology expertise, will be a collaborative technical partner.

The Advanced Energy Consortium held its first workshop at the Baker Institute on the Rice University campus in Houston January 8 and 9. More than 40 technologists representing UT, Rice University, and consortium members Baker Hughes, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Marathon attended.

Tinker, Kipper and others from the Bureau participated in the two day workshop as materials scientists and electrical engineers shared their latest nanotechnology sensor and materials advances with petroleum engineers and geoscientists, who reciprocated with the latest in enhanced oil recovery and reservoir characterization technologies.

The exchange improved understanding of the potential for near-term and longer term applications for nanotechnologies in the harsh conditions that typify oil and gas exploration.

A regional workshop is now being planned for March, with the intent to include more university research groups working in the nanotechnology field.

The goal is to develop a technology roadmap which will target and narrow the focus of future project solicitations.

'We look forward to working with the world's leading energy companies and oil field service firms and with Rice University as a technical partner to make this research program a success,' Tinker said.

As part of the agreement between the university and consortium members, the University of Texas will own all research and inventions that are spun out of the work, and the companies can make and distribute any patented technology.

The consortium will solicit leading universities and researchers worldwide for competitive project proposals and the most promising will be funded.

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