Partnership to Take Rock-Fluid Research to the Atomic Level
A partnership between FEI Company and the University of Wyoming (UW) will enable for the first time ever the study of interactions between fluid and rocks at the atomic level for oil and gas research.
The research – which aims to advance digital rock technology to achieve a better understanding of the fundamental forces at play in rock-fluid behavior – could potentially impact the entire oil and gas life cycle, from better well design for production to more effective enhanced oil recovery techniques for mature fields.
Through the collaboration, FEI, which designs, manufactures and supports a broad range of high-performance microscopy workflows, will provide UW with state-of-the-art imaging equipment, software and support for digital rock research. These tools will allow university researchers to study flow and transport behavior in both unconventional and conventional oil and gas reservoirs.
The Wyoming Legislature’s state matching program will contribute an amount equal to the equipment and support provided by FEI -- a total impact of $24 million. The contribution of equipment and funds will launch the new Center of Innovation for Flow in Porous Media, which will focus on advancing scientific understanding of subsurface flows. This goal is part of the university’s Tier-1 Engineering Initiative and the School of Energy Resources’ Strategic Areas of Concentration to transform the university into a top tier school for engineering and science undergraduate and graduate education and research.
The center will develop the tools and knowledge needed to predict the behavior of subsurface flows, an essential component of both carbon recovery and storage, and its fundamental research will result in published experimental data and predictive modeling software. The center, which will be housed in the High Bay Research Facility at UW, will contain around 90,000 square feet of traditional and high-bay research laboratories, offices and meeting areas. Installation of the equipment will take place during this year’s third quarter and through year-end 2016. The center is expected to open next summer.
FEI – a $1 billion, publicly traded company involved in oil and gas, semiconductor, life science and material science sectors – will provide a full-suite of equipment to researchers. This equipment includes micro-computed tomography equipment, FEI’s Heliscan technology, dual beam instrumentation, and an environmental transmission electron microscope, the Titan ETEM. These tools will allow researchers to look at oil-rock interactions at the micron-scale, pore or nano-scale, and atomic scale, Rudy Kellner, FEI’s Industry Group vice president, told Rigzone in an interview.
The microscope will provide researchers with the capability look at rock-liquids interaction on the atomic scale – to the best of FEI and UW’s knowledge, this is the first time that fluid-rock behavior can be studied at the atomic scale. The atomic scale, which 10 to the minus 11 meters, is the smallest scale that can be reasonably studied with existing technology today. That’s smaller than nano, which is on the 10 to the minus 9 meter scale, said Kellner.
FEI has supplied the university with technology for many years, but the prospect of digital rock research at such an unprecedented level got the company excited enough to want to participate. This type of study requires a high level of expertise to operate this type of equipment and to interpret its results.
“This is not trivial machinery,” Kellner noted.
FEI’s confidence in UW researchers is part of the reason for its excitement. The center will be led by Wyoming Excellence Chair in Petroleum Engineering Mohammad Piri, whose research is aimed at a better understanding of the micro and core-scale physics of flow and transport in man-made and naturally occurring porous media.
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