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SPE 138241

Applications of Micro and Nano Technologies in the Oil and Gas Industry-
An Overview of the Recent Progress
Xiangling Kong, SPE, China University of Petroleum (Beijing), and Michael M. Ohadi, The Petroleum Institute (UAE)

Copyright 2010, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference held in Abu Dhabi, UAE, 1–4 November 2010.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been reviewed
by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or
members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is
restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.


Micro and nano technologies have already contributed significantly to technological advances in a number of industries, including
the electronics, biomedical, pharmaceutical, materials and manufacturing, aerospace, photography, and more recently the energy
industries. Micro and nano technologies have the potential to introduce revolutionary changes in several areas of the oil and gas
industry, such as exploration, drilling, production, enhanced oil recovery, refining and distribution. For example, nanosensors
might provide more detailed and accurate information about reservoirs; specially fabricated nanoparticles can be used for scale
inhibition; structural nanomaterials could enable the development of petroleum industry equipment that is much lighter and more
reliable and long-lasting; and nanomembranes could enhance the gas separation and removal of impurities from oil and gas
streams. Other emerging applications of micro and nano technologies in the petroleum industry are new types of “smart fluids” for
enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and drilling. In short, there are numerous areas in which nanotechnology can contribute to more
efficient, less expensive, and more environmentally sound technologies. This paper provides an overview of the micro and nano
technologies with a particular focus on nanotech-based solutions for the oil and gas and the broader energy industry. Recent
developments in research in areas of significance to the oil and gas industry are briefly reviewed and include two case study
examples. The potential opportunities and challenges that face future trends of nanotechnology applications in the oil and gas
industry are also discussed.


The global demand for energy is anticipated to continue to increase over the next few decades with the expectation that the world’s
energy consumption will increase by as much as 50% in the next 20 years. Although the use of alternative energy sources, such as
nuclear and renewable energy will increase in the coming years, the increase will be relatively small and the main role of the
alternative energy sources, at least for the next two decades, will be to complement and supplement, rather than replace, the use of
hydrocarbons. Accordingly, meeting the World’s growing energy demand will be a major challenge in the coming decades and
will only be possible with revolutionary breakthroughs in the oil and gas industry’s core science and engineering. Breakthroughs
in nanotechnology have the potential to move the industry beyond the current alternatives for energy supply by introducing
technologies that are more efficient and more environmentally sound.

Broadly speaking, nanotechnology refers to a field of applied science and technology whose unifying theme is the control of
matter on the atomic and moleculer scale, generally 100 nanometers or smaller, and the fabrication of devices with critical
dimensions that lie within that size range. Specifically, advancements in nanotechnology have led to development of significantly
enhanced enabling materials, tools, and devices with features and characteristics that cannot be matched by conventional
technologies. Research and development in nanotechnology has exploited the unique combinations of mechanical, thermal,
electronic, optical, magnetic, and chemical properties observed at the nano-length scale (Krishnamoori, 2006).
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Nanotechnology is poised to dramatically impact all sectors of industry (Mokhatab et al., 2006). For example, in oil and gas
applications, nanotechnology could be used to develop new resources by enhancing thermal conductivity and improving downhole
separation (Esmaeili, 2009). Because the oil and gas industry relies on the strength and stability of its materials, the extreme
precision of nanoscale manipulation offers geoscientists and engineers not only miniaturized devices to work with but also
drastically improved novel materials. A recently published paper makes the point that nanotechnology may someday boost the
average global recovery factor of oil and gas by 10% and due to rapid advances in research in nanotechnology in the oil and gas
industry, an explosion in applications of nanotechnology in the industry is expected in the near future (Tippee, 2009). Nanoscale
metals have already been used to delineate ore deposits for geochemical exploration (Wang et al., 1997). Nanotechnology also
opens interesting prospects for improved oil recovery in the form of tailored surfactants. These can be added to the reservoir in a
more controlled way than with existing substances, thereby releasing more oil. Nanotechnology could also be used to develop new
metering techniques with tiny sensors to provide improved information about the reservoir. Other emerging applications of
nanotechnology in the oil and gas industry are new types of “smart fluids” for improved oil recovery and drilling (Evdokimov et
al., 2006; Zitha, 2005). Such “smart fluids” will further enhance drilling by adding benefits such as wettability alteration, advanced
drag reduction, and binders for sand consolidation (Chaaudhury, 2003; Wasan and Nikolov, 2003) Nano-catalysts may also offer a
solution for on-site upgrading of bitumen and heavy crude oil (Ying and Sun, 1997; Scott et al., 2003).

This paper first presents the challenges currently faced in the oil and gas industry and the potential solutions the nanotechnology
may offer. Next, recent developments in nanotechnology in select major areas of interest to the industry and relevant research
areas are discussed. To conclude, the challenges and future trends of nanotechnology applications in the oil and gas industry are

Oil and gas industry Challenges and Naonotechnology Solutions

The oil and gas and the broader energy industry is facing major future challenges from upstream to midstream to downstream
applications in terms of materials, techniques and safe environmental operations. These challenges (summarized in Table 1) have
forced the industry to look for revolutionary solutions. In recent years micro and nano technologies have received substantial
attention as potential candidates to offer solutions to some of these challenges. In the following a brief review of the recent
progress in relevant research and development in areas of significance to the oil and gas are reviewed and followed by a summary
of possible solutions the nanotechnology can offer in a number of areas of critical importance to the industry.

As easily accessible oil resources continue to shrink, demand will continue to increase for more sophisticated methods to improve
field characterization techniques and processes that may lead to enhanced oil recovery. Industry geoscientists believe that
substantially more oil and gas could be extracted if their understanding of the chemical and physical properties of existing
reservoirs were improved. Even with the use of sophisticated secondary and tertiary enhanced oil recovery techniques, such as
water flooding, gas flooding, chemical flooding and thermal flooding, a large amount of oil and gas is ultimately left behind.
According to well established estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other sources, approximately 67 percent of
all U.S. oil remains in place and will increasingly require advanced technologies to recover it. In fact, with the exception of
seismic techniques, most sensing technologies penetrate and provide information only few inches from the wellbore, thus offer
limited information. Current state-of-the-art technologies still lack the needed resolution and/or the ability to deeply penetrate
reservoir lithologies. Moreover, in hostile conditions, such as high temperature and high pressure, conventional electrical sensors
and other measuring tools are often not reliable. Despite the use of advanced 3-D and 4-D seismic surveys, the industry still needs
advanced downhole electrical methods, sensitive electromagnetic imaging methods, and sophisticated modeling and simulation
techniques to improve in-depth understanding of the reservoirs. Accurately locating and characterizing the remaining oil and gas in
these reservoirs—billions of barrels of potentially available supply in many cases, particularly in the oil-rich areas of the world—is
a great motivation for the development of novel techniques, realizing even a slight improvement in the enhanced oil recovery
factors translates to billions of dollars in additional revenues.

New sensor technology is needed to probe properties deep in reservoirs, which would allow us to unravel the complex nature of
the rock and fluid interactions and to design suitable exploitation plans for trapped oil and gas. Better sensor technology would
also allow us to attain improved temperature and pressure ratings in deep wells and hostile environments. New imaging and
computational techniques are also needed to allow better discovery, sizing, and characterization of reservoirs. With the tightest
passages (or pore throats) in typical oil-bearing sandstones ranging from 1-15 μm, injection of custom-designed nanoparticles or
nanosensors, ranging from 1-100 nm, has captured the attention and imagination of petroleum geologists (Pitkethly, 2004). To
explore the potential of this technology in the U.S., in 2008 the Advanced Energy Consortium (AEC) was constituted in
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cooperation with major oil companies, such as BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Schlumberger, and Total. This consortium, with an
annual budget of several billion dollars, was charged with developing nanotechnologies to improve oil and gas production. The
primary goal of the research consortium is to develop subsurface micro-and nanosensors that can be injected into oil and gas well
bores. By virtue of their ultra-small size, these nanoagents would migrate out of the wellbores and into and through pores of
surrounding geological structures to collect data about the physical characteristics of hydrocarbon reservoirs.

Nanoparticles with noticeable alterations in optical, magnetic, and electrical properties compared to their bulk counterparts, are
excellent tools for the development of sensors and the formation of imaging contrast agents (Krishnamoori, 2006). Hyperpolarized
silicon nanoparticles provide a novel tool for measuring and imaging in oil exploration (Song and Marcus, 2007). Nanosensors
deployed in the pore space by means of “nanodust” can provide data on reservoir characterization, fluid-flow monitoring, and
fluid-type recognition. Nano-CT can image tight gas sands, tight shales, and tight carbonates in which the pore structure is below
what micro-CT can detect. In addition, nanotechnology has the potential to help develop geothermal resources by enhancing
thermal conductivity, and nano-based materials could be used for geothermal production. Nanoscale metals have already been used
to delineate ore deposits for geochemical exploration.

Drilling and Production

As readily accessible reserves become depleted, the oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) industry faces increasing
technical challenges due to changes in the operational depth, the nature of subsurface geo-hazards with increasing depth, the length
of horizontal departure to maximize production, the complexity of drilling operations, and the shape of wellbore profiles or
number of laterals from a motherbore to maximize reservoir contact. These issues lead to increased costs and limit the operating
envelope of drilling and production technologies. The industry also faces a range of materials-related challenges due to significant
changes in the physical, chemical and thermal conditions of deeper horizons, along with increasingly strict environmental
regulations (Amanullah and Ashraf, 2009).

Nowadays, the oil and gas industry is looking for mechanically strong, physically small, chemically and thermally stable,
biologically degradable, environmentally benign chemicals, polymers or natural products for designing smart fluids for use in
drilling and production. According to one future production forecast, about 40-50% of future hydrocarbon recovery will be from
offshore reserves (Amanullah and Ashraf, 2009). There are a number of drilling hazards in the exploration and exploitation of
deep-water reserves that are not encountered in onshore or shallow-water conditions. Due to changes in operating conditions such
as operational depth or a shift from vertical to horizontal, the conventional drilling and stimulation fluids perform poorly.
Conventional macro or micromaterial-based drilling, drill-in, completion, and stimulation fluids are only partially successful in
solving these drilling and production problems due to the concentration and size effect of the materials along with the restricted
functional ability of the macro- and micro-particles. Another challenge lies in oil-well cement in deep wells, which requires
unconventional materials to satisfy specifications. In addition, the drilling industry needs improved, lightweight, rugged structural
materials for several applications, such as weight reduction of offshore platforms, energy-efficient transportation vessels, and
better-performing drilling parts (Krishnamoori 2006). Other unsolved problems confronting oil production are scale formation and
the untimely deposition of heavy organic compounds present in the oil (Pourafshary et al., 2009).

These challenges represent a significant market opportunity for nanomaterial-based solutions, which can contend with corrosive
impurities, high temperatures and pressures, shock loads, abrasion, and other hostile environmental conditions. Drilling equipment
and platforms can be made or coated with nanomaterials for improved corrosion-resistance, wear-resistance, shock-resistance, and
enhanced thermal conductivity. These capabilities will greatly enhance the ability of companies to produce in more extreme
conditions. Nanoparticles, especially nanosilica or nano-Fe2O3 (Li, G., 2004; Xu et al., 2003), have been widely employed to
increase compressive and flexural strengths of Portland and Belite cements. Furthermore, the self-monitoring capability of cement
mortar with nano-Fe2O3 has been reported (Li, H. et al, 2004). Due to the special properties and interaction potential of
nanomaterials compared to their parent materials, the nanomaterials are considered the most promising future materials for “smart
fluid” design for oil and gas field applications.

Moreover, due to the scope of manufacturing of tailored nanoparticles with custom-made functional behaviors, ionic natures,
physical shapes and sizes, charge densities and unit volumes, nanotechnology has opened the door to the development of a new
generation of fluids defined as “smart fluids” for drilling, production and stimulation-related applications. Such smart fluids will
further enhance drilling by adding benefits such as wettability alteration, advanced drag reduction, and binders for sand
consolidation (Chaaudhury, 2003; Wasan and Nikolov 2003). One specialized petroleum laboratory has developed an advanced
fluid mixed with nanosized particles and superfine powder that significantly improves drilling speed. Such nanofluids can
eliminate damage to the reservoir rock in the well, making it possible to extract more oil (Esmaeili, 2009). Nickel nano- and micro-
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particle adsorbents have been employed for removing asphaltanes from heavy oil model solutions by adsorption. The results
demonstrate that the asphaltene adsorption capacity onto nickel nanoparticles show undeniable advantages compared to nickel
microparticles (Nassar et al., 2008).

Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR)

The fast growth of worldwide demand for oil can be met effectively in only two ways: by finding new hydrocarbon resources or by
enhancing the oil recovery of available reservoirs. However, the rate of new oilfield discoveries is declining, and most of the
producing oilfields are in the late stages of production. The importance of improving oil production efficiency by enhanced oil
recovery (EOR) techniques is highly acknowledged because in many of the world’s reservoirs about two thirds of the oil in place
cannot be recovered by conventional production methods. Three major categories of EOR have been found to be commercially
successful to varying degrees: (1) thermal recovery, which involves the introduction of heat such as the injection of steam to
reduce the viscosity of the heavy viscous oil and to improve its ability to flow through the reservoir; (2) gas injection, which uses
gases such as natural gas, nitrogen, or carbon dioxide that expand in a reservoir to push additional oil to a production wellbore, or
other gases that dissolve in the oil to lower its viscosity and improve its flow rate; and (3) chemical injection, which can involve
the use of long-chained molecules called polymers to increase the effectiveness of waterflood, or the use of detergent-like
surfactants to help lower the surface tension that often prevents oil droplets from moving through a reservoir. However, each of
these techniques has been hampered either by its relatively high cost or, in some cases, by relatively inefficient oil recovery. For
conventional water and gas flooding, the driving fluids often quickly channel through the formation to the producing well,
bypassing most of the oil and leaving it uncovered due to the unfavorable mobility ratio of the driving fluids and the driven fluids.
Chemical EOR processes such as polymer flooding, alkaline injection and surfactant flooding or their combinations are also
limited by the high cost of the injectants, potential corrosion of the formation, and injectant loss during the flow-through reservoir.
Once these injectants are entrapped by the pore throats, there is a loss of mobility control, absolute permeability reduction, poor oil
recovery, and high materials loss. Therefore, low-mobility, cost-effective injectant is greatly needed.

Nanoparticles offer a way to control oil recovery processes that is unmatched by any current or previous technology. These
nanoagents can drastically increase oil recovery by improving the geomechanics of a reservoir through the improvement of surface
tension as well as actual modification of the reserves themselves. The viscosity of a fluid injected to displace oil, such as water,
CO2 or surfactant solution, is often lower than the viscosity of the oil. In this situation, adding nano particles can tune up the
viscosity of the injected fluid to an optimum level, with net effect of improving the mobility, thus the oil recovery efficiency.
Several studies have reported that upon addition of the nanoparticles, the properties of the base fluid such as density, viscosity,
thermal conductivity and specific heat can be increased. Laboratory tests (Shah and Rusheet, 2009) show that the viscosity of CO2
combined with 1% CuO nanoparticles and a small amount of dispersant is over 140 times greater than conventional CO2.
Therefore, by dispersing such nanoparticles into the driving CO2 fluids, a favorable mobility ratio and high sweep efficiency can
be obtained, leading to a higher oil recovery. Another research project, sponsored by ConocoPhillips at the University of Kansas
(KU) (“Nanotechnology,” 2008), aims at creating a new class of polymer-type nanoparticles that can be incorporated with EOR
injection fluids to improve hydrocarbon recovery from reservoirs in more efficient and environmentally favorable ways. With their
ultra-small size and very high surface area/volume ratios, such nano-polymers can penetrate small pore throats without becoming
trapped, and the amount of expensive injection can be decreased. Thus, a cost-effective process of EOR can be achieved.

Emulsification is another way to increase viscosity, but many current methods to stabilize emulsions are expensive or poorly suited
to large-scale applications. Stabilization with surface-modified nanoparticles could overcome these problems. Emulsions stabilized
by nanoparticles can withstand high temperature reservoir conditions for extended periods, which can expand the range of
reservoirs to which EOR can be applied (Tiantian et al., 2009). Emerging nanoemulsions such as water-in-oil (W/O) and oil-in-
water (O/W) have also attracted great interest for oil applications (Morales et al, 2003; del Gaudio et al, 2007; Porras, et al., 2004).
These nanoemulsions, with droplets ranging from 1-200 nm, have good injectivity and penetration without filtration. In addition,
these nanoemulsions are very stable over time and resistant to coalescence and the exchange of the dispersed phase between
droplets. All these characteristics contribute to great potential capability for EOR. In addition, the silica nanoparticles were able to
stabilize supercritical CO2-in-water emulsion, as studied by Dickson (2004), and water-in-supercritical CO2 emulsion, as studied
by Adkins et al. (2007). This ability is of particular note for improved oil recovery processes. These emulsions made with
nanoparticles have shown to be very stable, and could form a compact layer of nanoparticles at the droplets’ interface. Also, they
have demonstrated potential to overcome many limitations encountered with emulsion stabilized by colloidal solids or surfactants,
such as instability at high temperature and high salinity conditions. These emulsions can also be used as a good approach for CO2
sequestration, since they can remain stable under reservoir conditions.
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Refining and Processing

One of the major challenges facing the refining and processing industry today is limiting sulfur and CO2 emissions in order to
stabilize atmospheric CO2 and limit global warming. Another challenge confronting this industry is the increasing expectation for
cleaner fuels and quality feedstock. Refineries are under pressure to produce higher yields while consuming fewer resources (such
as steel, energy, and CO2). Impurities such as heavy organic components in crude oil are also a significant challenge facing the
refining and processing industry. These increasing pressures have shifted the focus of refineries towards reducing their costs,
reducing their energy footprints, and using new technologies to simultaneously meet both rising fuel demands and tighter global
emissions standards.

During the last two decades, nanotechnology has made substantial contributions to refining and converting fossil fuels. The
development of mesoporous catalyst materials such as MCM-41 has significantly changed downstream refining. Nano-filters and
particles have the ability to remove harmful toxic substances such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and related acids and acid
anhydrides from vapor, and mercury from soil and water, with exact precision. Nanotechnology further provides solutions for
carbon capture and long-term storage. Emerging nanotechnology has opened the door to the development of a new generation of
nanomembranes for enhanced separation of gas streams and removal of impurities from oil. Another area of significant challenge
lies in the upgrading of bitumen and heavy crude oil. Because of their high density and viscosity, it is difficult to handle and
transport these chemicals to locations where they can be converted into valuable products. Nano-catalysts may offer a solution for
on-site upgrading of bitumen and heavy crude oil (Ying and Sun, 1997). Significant resources and intense research activities have
been devoted to develop processes and specifically designed nanocatalysts for on-site field upgrading combined with
hydrogen/methane production (Esmaeili, 2009).

Table 1 Recent petro industry needs and nanotechnology solutions

Area Industry Needs Nanotech Solutions
Less invasive methods of exploration, remote sensing
Methods to “sniff” for new pockets of oil
Enhanced resolution for subsurface imaging and computational techniques Nanosensors and
Improved temperature and pressure ratings in deep wells and hostile environments
Improved instrumentation for gas adsorption
Improved 1, 2, 3 and 4-D seismic resolution
Enhanced remote imaging, real-time continuous monitoring of flow-rate, pressure and
other parameters during production, wireless telemetry, in situ chemical sensing
Accurate early warning detection and location of leaks (preventing environmental
Improved reservoir illumination and characterization, including improved signal-to-
Reservoir noise ratio of subsalt events, improved velocity-modeling accounting for anisotrophy
Improved sand exclusion and mobility of injectant
Controlled agglomeration of particles Nanomembranes
Ability to capture and store CO2
Improved stability and pressure integrity and heat transfer efficiency
Nanomaterials, fluids,
Ability to minimize damage to formation of offshore platforms, reduce their weight and coatings
requirements, and increase their sturdiness
Increased effectiveness and longevity of drilling components, making cheaper,
lighter and stronger pipes and drill bits
Extended lifetime of equipment with corrosion resistance, adhesion enhancement
and wear resistance
Nanomaterials and
Drilling Improved strength-to-weight ratio for an expanding range of geological settings coatings
Expandable tubulars for deeper wells without needing to telescope the well, or
casingless wells
Improved cement integrity - light density and high strength, hole quality and well
placement, hermetic seals
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Innovative drill engines that can be sent deep into the shaft; improved elastomers;
Ability to prevent bio-fouling
Improved drilling fluids and thermal conductivity
Nanofluids and
Removal of toxic metals (mercury, cadmium, lead) nanomembranes
Ability to prevent drilling mud invasion, separating mud filtrate and formation water
In situ sensing and control, monitoring of stresses in real-time
Ability to direct fracturing and withstand high temperatures to go deep into
challenging resources of wellbore deep reading of oil-water interface
Chemical detection with no active components downhole
Enhanced measurements in the borehole (pressure, temprature, composition,
conductivity) Nanosensors
Accurate detection and location of leaks (pipeline, downhole)
Improved understanding of matrix, fracture, fluid properties and production-
related changes
Increased wear resistance
Self-healing materials Nanomaterials and
Pressure integrity, improved robustness
Enhanced hydro-phobic or hydrophilic behavior for waterflood applications

Improved water filtration (for industrial, agricultural and potable use)

Production Filtration of impurities from heavy oil and tight gas
Desulfurization, inhibiting H2S producing bacteria
Cost-effective CO2 sequestration
Sand exclusion
Effective water-shutoff
Scale/wax removal
Easy separation of oil/water emulsion on the surface

High-strength/lightweight proppants
Environmentally friendly fluids
Enhanced oil recovery: enhanced fluid viscosity and molecular modification;
Improved production rates and water disposition
Reversible/reusable swellables
Ability to manipulate the interfacial characteristics of rock-fluids relationship
Reversible and controllable making and breaking of emulsion or foam
Improved combustion and enhanced prevention of fouling and corrosion
Increased refining capacity & speed. Better insulation and separation materials
Nanomembranes and
Refining & Efficient conversion of hydrocarbons and refining efficiency (including extra heavy nanocatalysts
and sour crude oils) into clean transportation fuels
Improved monitoring during oil refining Nanosensors

Specific Case examples of nanotechnology benefits for the petroleum industry

There are many published papers concerned with nanoparticles (Zhang, 2001; Chen et al., 2004; Chen et al., 2000; Hong, et al.,
2004; Chen and Shao, 2003). Nanoparticles, ranging in diameter from 1 to 100 nm, can possess many special physical properties
and can be prepared in different ways. They are of great scientific interest, as they effectively bridge bulk materials and atomic or
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molecular structures. When the size of nanoparticles approximates or is less than the wavelength of conduction electrons, the
periodic boundary conditions become damaged, and magnetism, internal pressure, optical absorption, thermal resistance, chemical
activity, catalysis and melting point undergo great changes that are unlike those of normal particles. The surface effect is the
change of the nanoparticle’s properties that occurs when the number of surface atoms increases as the size of the particles
decreases. The surface/volume ratio of nanoparticles is 1000 times larger than that of microparticles. Atoms at the surface of the
nanoparticle, without atoms surrounding them, are in a different environment from inner atoms. Because of the unsaturated
dangling bonds, they tend to be coalescent with others in order to become stabilized, so their specific surface area, surface energy
and surface coalescence energy increase rapidly, manifesting in high chemical activity and strong ability of absorption (Burgard et
al, 2006).

Tailored nanoparticles have properties potentially useful for oil recovery processes, formation evaluation and scale formation
control. Binshan et al. (Binshan and Tailiang, 2009; Binshan et al., 2006; Binshan and Dai, 2002) reported nanometer lipophobic
and hydrophilic polysilicon nanoparticles (LHPN) that could change the wettability of reservoir rock through their adsorption on
porous walls. As the oil-wet reservoir can be changed into water-wet rock by LHPN adsorption on the porous walls, the relative
permeability of the oil phase increases, and the relatively permeability of the water decreases. Thus, oil recovery is improved by
LHPN. Due to the high surface forces of nanoparticles such as van der Waals forces and electrostatic forces, unique nanoparticles
can effectively control formation fines migration (Tianping et al., 2008). Published results show that enhanced retention of Ca-
Diethylenetriaminepentatakis (DTPMP) nanoparticles and slow dissolution of DTPMP are highly advantageous in slowing the
phosphonate release from porous media and ensuring successful inhibitor treatments in oil fields (Shen and Zhang, 2008). The oil
and gas industry may extract substantial benefits from nanoparticles with such ultrafine size and special properties.

Nanofluids (Smart Fluids)

Upon addition of the nanoparticles, the properties of the base fluid such as density, viscosity, thermal conductivity and specific
heat can be tuned towards the optimum levels (Zhang et al., 2005). Essentially, nanoscale particles are suspended in the liquid
phase in low volumetric fractions. The liquid phase can be any liquid such as oil, water, or conventional fluid mixture. The
nanoparticles used in the design of such fluids are preferably inorganic with properties of no dissolution or aggregation in the
liquid environment. They can be designed to be compatible with reservoir fluids and are environmentally friendly. Recent
experiments have shown some promising nanofluids with amazing properties such as fluids with advanced drag reduction, binders
for sand consolidation, gels, products for wettability alteration, and anticorrosive coatings (Chaaudhury, 2003; Wasan and
Nikolov, 2003; Zhang, 2001).

Emerging applications of nanotechnology in the oil industry involve new types of smart fluids for various applications, particularly
for EOR purposes. Among these are new nanoformulations of surfactant/polymers, colloidal dispersion gels, and biliquid foams
(Zhang et al, 2009). Chemical EOR methods include utilization of polymers, surfactants, alkaline chemicals, and their
combinations, such as ASP (alkaline-surfactant-polymer), or the use of micro-emulsions in micellar flooding (Thomas, 2006).
Recently, emulsions with droplet size in the nanoscale (typically in the range of 20-100 nm) have attracted interest and enthusiasm
for use in various industries. Chemical EOR, and specifically micellar flooding, are expected to reap huge benefits from
nanotechnology and nano-emulsions in particular [Mokhatab et al., 2006; BCC Research, 2007). Shah and Rusheet (2009)
conducted CO2 nanofluid (nanoparticles saturated with CO2) core flood experiments on EOR of heavy oil. Their experimental
results showed that swelling and displacing of heavy oil together with nanoparticles allowed about 71.30% recovery of the heavy
oil, 13.30% higher than a conventional CO2 core flood.

Because of the significant alterations in their optical, magnetic and electrical properties (in comparison to their bulk analogs),
along with their ability to form (electrically and/or geometrically) percolated structures at low volume fractions, nanomaterials
make excellent tools for the development of sensors and the formation of imaging-contrast agents. Additionally, using the
anisotropic nature of many nanoparticles, the percolation is a strong function of orientation, and, thus, for appropriately processed
materials, highly anisotropic electrical and mechanical properties are observed in different directions. Such nanomaterials, when
combined with smart fluids, can be used to develop high-resolution, extremely sensitive sensors for measurement of temperature,
pressure, and stress downhole under extreme conditions. These new sensors are small in size, work safely in the presence of
electromagnetic fields, are able to work in high temperatures and pressures, and can be changed at a sensible cost without
interfering in the oil exploration process.
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Outlook and Future Challenges

There are numerous areas of the petroleum industry in which nanotechnology can contribute to more efficient, less expensive, and
more environmentally sound technologies than those that are readily available. The future possibilities for nanotechnology in the
petroleum industry are indentified as follows (Mokhatab et al., 2006; Esmaeili, 2009; Jackson, 2005):
(1) Improved success of exploration by improving data gathering, recognizing shallow hazards, and avoiding dry holes.
(2) Nanotechnology-enhanced materials that provide strength and endurance to increase performance and reliability in
drilling, tubular goods, and rotating parts.
(3) Improved elastomers, critical to deep drilling and drilling in high-temperature/high-pressure environments.
(4) Production assurance in diagnostics, monitoring surveillance, and management strategies.
(5) Corrosion management for surface, subsurface, and facilities applications.
(6) Lightweight, rugged materials that reduce weight requirements on offshore platforms, and more reliable and more
energy-efficient transportation vessels.
(7) Selective filtration and waste management for water and carbon nanotube applications.
(8) Enhanced oil and gas recovery through reservoir property modification, facility retrofitting, gas property modification,
and water injection.
(9) Refining and petrochemicals technologies.

Although many achievements with nanomaterials have been made in laboratory conditions, serious challenges remain in field
implementation for oil production in complex underground environments. Most nanomaterial-based products are still in the
research and laboratory developmental stage in the oil industry. Before they can be practically applied, numerous problems need to
be solved, such as the production of low-cost and easily industrialized nanomaterials. Some of the barriers that may slow
implementation of future development in nano systems for the oil/gas sector include the following (Esmaeili , 2009):
(1) Lack of strong support for innovation in the E&P sector.
(2) Barriers to entry and adoption.
(3) Perceived cost and risk.
(4) Lack of awareness.

With continued heavy interest in nanotechnologies in the oil and gas industry, many potential solutions will emerge for the above-
referenced challenges. Once solutions to these problem are solved and the relevant technologies developed, nanotechnologies can
be extensively applied in just about every area of the oil/gas industry.


The present paper presented an overview of the most recent research progress in nanotechnology in areas of specific interest to the
oil and gas industry. The reviewed literature suggests that the oil and gas industry is facing many materials-based and technique-
based challenges, some of which may well be addressed by nanotechnology, as it shows great promise for both upstream and
downstream sectors of the oil and gas industry. It offers many potential solutions to industry problems that cannot be solved with
conventional approaches. The laboratory tests and a few field application results reviewed here show that nanotechnology has
great potential for petroleum applications in the forms of structural nanomaterials, smart nanofluids, advanced nanosensors and
nanomembranes. Although most of the nanomaterial-based products are still in the stage of laboratory testing, they could be
extensively applied in the oil industry once the existing problems are solved. Innovations in nanotechnology as applied to the oil
and gas industry will bring about a technological breakthrough to the industry with many win-win rewards for both sides.


The authors cordially acknowledge the supports of Professor Karl Bertussen, Director of Research at the Petroleum Institute in
Abu Dhabi for his many useful technical interactions and his strong support of this research area. The authors also wish to express
their appreciation to Professor Hongwu Zhu of China University of Petroleum and Professor Ebrahim Al-Hajri of the Petroleum
Institute for various discussions and technical feedback.


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