Nanoparticles for Subsurface Engineering


Novel nanoscale structured materials, in the form of solid composites, complex fluids, and functional nanoparticle-fluid combinations, are bringing major technological advances in many industries. A few examples are the extraordinary material strength, elasticity and thermal conductivity of nano-based metal and polymer composites; targeted and programmed delivery of drugs and enhanced imaging of human organs in medicine; and highly localized measurements of chemical/physical properties using nano sensors. These and many other advances are due to the orders-of-magnitude increase in interfacial area and associated excess stress and chemical potential for the nano-structured materials, as well as some chemical and physical properties that are unique to nanoscale.

In the past, subsurface applications of nanotechnology have been very limited because of the difficulty in delivering the "nanoparticles" and maintaining their integrity under harsh downhole conditions. Despite the difficulties, the current advances in nanotechnology are such that a judicious choice of potential applications, and carrying out focused research to bring those potentials to practical maturity, will result in significant benefits to the oil and gas industry. The recent surge of interest on nanotechnology applications by the upstream oil industry shows that their important potential is beginning to be recognized.

During the past few years, CPGE has developed collaborations with world-leading nanotechnology experts in several key disciplines at UT as well as critical infrastructure to support and expand nanotechnology research. The close team work on oilfield applications, which we believe is unique to CPGE, is essential for meaningful and practical development of upstream applications.

In the News

  • "Increased Oil Production with Something Old, Something New," Journal of Petroleum Technology, 64(10), October 2012, pp. 36-46. (JPT link)
  • "Cancer Solution Magnifies Oil Recovery," Energy One Alumni Magazine, Fall 2012, p. 6. (560 KB PDF file)

Key Findings

We have previously shown that nanoparticles can reduce hydraulic flow into shales, and this is one of the main requirements to develop a good borehole-stabilizing mud system.

In this project, we utilize the concept of hyperthermia, which is the practice of using paramagnetic nanoparticles and magnetic field application for a highly localized and focused delivery of heat, e.g., to destroy diseased human cells by burning, in medicine.

A fundamental obstacle to achieving recovering large fractions of heavy oil in place is poor volumetric sweep. Robust mobility control is a thus an important long-term goal.

Core sampling and analysis are currently required to characterize pore sizes in drilling operations, however, this is both expensive and time consuming. NMR techniques coupled with nanoparticles have the potential to reduce these costs.