Even Houston, the oil and gas capital of the world, is trying to reduce carbon emissions. But most experts expect the world to continue using oil for decades in order to meet the growing demand for electrification and transportation fuels.
Reducing the carbon footprint of oil production could help with both.
Researchers from the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH (TcSUH) have reported a nanofluid that can boost the recovery of even heavy oil while reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the wellhead.
It’s inexpensive – made in a common household blender using commercially available sodium – and non-toxic, with the sodium nanomaterials dissipating after sparking a reaction that helps lift oil from the reservoir. That reduces concerns about environmental damage.
Zhifeng Ren, director of TcSUH, and Dan Luo, a postdoctoral researcher at TcSUH, described the breakthrough in Materials Today Physics.
The nanofluid allowed for recovery in lab tests of 80% of extra- heavy oil; recovery in the field is expected to be lower, depending on oilfield conditions.
It works by:
- Generating heat when sodium nanoparticles come in contact with water in the reservoir, offering the benefit of heat-based oil recovery techniques without the need for an external – and greenhouse gas- producing – source of heat.
- Generating a reaction that produces sodium hydroxide, which is commonly used for alkaline flooding in oil fields. That can foment motion in the oil and spark a reaction that reduces viscosity.
- Generating another reaction that produces hydrogen gas, which can be used for gas flooding, another common recovery technique.
Although the paper reporting the discovery focuses on using the nanofluid to enhance heavy oil recovery, Ren said it also could be used in the production of light oil, as well as for more general household uses, such as clearing a grease-clogged pipe.