A wall of graphene a single nanometer wide could be the difference between an oil well that merely pays for itself and one that returns great profit – that’s the thought behind a new industry research venture.
Rice University and Houston-based M-I SWACO, the world's
largest producer of drilling fluids for the petrochemical industry, have signed
an agreement for research funds to develop a graphene additive to improve the
productivity of wells.
The company will spend $450,000 over 2 years for research by
the lab of James Tour, Rice's Chao Professor of Chemistry and professor of
mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science.
Tour's lab will work with M-I SWACO's researchers to
optimize the effectiveness of graphene additives to drilling fluids. The
nanoscaled graphene additive, just a little per barrel, would be forced by the
fluid's own pressure to form a thin filter cake on the shaft wall; it is
thought that this will prevent muds from clogging the pores.
When the fluids are removed along with the drillhead, the
formation pressure would force the filter cake out through the pores and into
the shaft. "When you release the hydrostatic pressure and pull the drill
bit out, there's much more pressure inside the rock than in the hole,"
Tour says. "The filter blows out and the oil flows."
James Bruton, M-I SWACO's vice president for research and
engineering, says that the time is right for his company to investigate the use
of nanoparticles. "It's something we've wanted to get into, but it was
obvious we would have to partner with those who are in the know about
nanotechnology. So when a friend of our CEO's who knows Professor Tour asked if
we were interested in visiting with him, we were happy to say yes."
Bruton says that the cost of drilling fluids can reach $200
to $300 per barrel, and a well in the Gulf of Mexico might require more than
20,000 barrels to drill. "It's not a cheap undertaking for our customers,
so the performance of the fluids is paramount," he explains.
Tour emphasized the nanomaterials being studied are
"clean tech" components in an environmentally sensitive field.
"We've shown them to be nontoxic in many forms," he notes. "It's
all graphite-based, and that often comes from the ground anyway."
While the company's current focus is on drilling muds,
Bruton also says that future research would focus on using graphene in
completion fluids and other drilling products. "The ideas for using
nanotechnologies are endless," he reveals.
often ask me what are we developing, and most of the time they want to know
what's coming out tomorrow, next week, next month or next quarter," Bruton
says. "In reality, I have to worry about things we're going to implement
two to five years from now. That's where the step changes are. That's where we
hope and believe nanotechnology, with Rice and Jim's group, will help us get to
where we need to go."
New Drilling Fluid Research Funded
October 28, 2009