Egypt and its nanotechnology efforts do pop up here from time to time. In this instance, there’s a bonus, the item in question concerns oil, a topic of some interest to Canadians, especially anyone who lives close to the oil sands and the province of Alberta.
Getting back to Egypt, a May 21, 2015 article by Rachel Williamson for WAMDA describes the energy situation in the country and research that may make a big difference (Note: Links have been removed),
Nanotechnology has been used in the oil and gas sector for decades, but in the last 15 years companies have been investing bigger sums than ever into the technology.
As Egypt struggles through an energy shortage, one scientist is hoping an entrepreneurial oil executive will notice – and utilize – his research on nanotechnology, and allow the field to finally take off in his country.
Dr. Adel Salem is only months into a new position at the brand new Future University in Cairo, where he heads research on ‘enhanced oil recovery,’ or EOR as it’s known in oil sector parlance, using nanoparticles.
That research could add 10-20 percent more oil to Egypt’s current production, he believes, which has been in decline since 1996. That’s between 70,000 and 140,000 extra barrels of oil per day. To put that in context, total production in major gas operations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq has grown steadily to reach 70,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
Here’s a description of the science,
Salem is currently testing a sandstone core sample from an oil reservoir near the Bahariya formation in central Egypt. The plan is to find out the ultimate recovery factor using nanoparticles. These nanoparticles have been created from sand – silica – between one and 100 nanometers (very small). This nanomaterial is dissolved in a saltwater solution and the fluid is flushed through the core sample. The recovery factor from that experiment is compared to the same process using water and polymer flooding. Salem says the result is promising and could open a new era in enhanced oil recovery.
The researcher goes to provide more details about exactly how this material acts to increase recovery from an oil reservoir,
“If this is a bubble of oil and this is a solution containing some nano, for example, if this tiny particle moves with a certain force, it can invade this boundary interfacial tension [on the oil bubble], and another one invade here, and here… which means that at the end of the day it will break down the interfacial tension between the oil and water,” Salem said.
After the oil bubble is split into smaller droplets, the liquid can more easily move through the reservoir and into the well after it’s flooded once more with normal water.
Furthermore, nanoparticles ‘dissolved’ in steam have the ability to transfer heat from the earth’s surface down to the reservoir, which can make the oil less viscous and more likely to flow easily.
What this means is it’s easier to extract oil from a reservoir. It also means more oil can be extracted in a shorter period of time, reducing costs and allowing a company to use its equipment and staff more effectively.
“The challenges in this field are the size, the material type, and concentration of these nanoparticles. It’s a big challenge, the nano-material itself [be it] silica, aluminum, or zinc oxides,” Salem said. “The other is the concentration. We have to determine the optimum material, the optimum size, the optimum concentration, because all of these can provoke or can hinder or can damage the reservoir. For each reservoir people have to experiment to determine all of these factors.”
For the curious, Salem uses silicon nanoparticles purchased from China. Lab results show a 90% recovery rate which Salem suspects will translate to 50% – 60% in the field.
The researcher wants to commercialize this technology (from Williamson’s article),
… although Salem wants to commercialize his findings, regulations can prevent university staff from profiting from their research. He’s relying on an open-minded businessman or woman to realize the benefits of nanotechnology and introduce it to Egypt.
I recommend reading Williamson’s article in its entirety.