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Using Nanotechnology For Oil Recovery - An Interview With Prof. Khavkin

AZoMining talks to Prof. Alexander Khavkin about how newly developed nanotechnology could help to access technologically hard-to-recover reserves and also provide benefits and cost reductions in currently active reserves.

Could you please give a brief overview of what is classed as a ‘hard-to-recover’ oil reserve?

It is first necessary to clearly separate ‘technologically hard-to-recover’ and ‘economically hard-to-recover’. Technologically hard-to-recover reserves require complex and expensive technologies. But their development today can be completely profitable. For example,to produce oil from tight formations one needs modern technologies. It is not very easy, but it is possible and can generate enough profit.

Economically hard-to-recover reserves are currently unprofitable to develop, and therefore they require either the privileges on tariff to their extraction or an increase in the price of the oil. The simplest examples are fields with good, easily recoverable oil, but which located far from transportation and all other infrastructure.

From a technology point of view, the most challenging and most interesting are technologically hard-to-recover reserves.

Could you give some examples of technologically hard-to-recover reserves and where are these located?

Technologically hard-to-recover reserves are present almost everywhere. Applying new technologies to convert non-profitable reserves into profitable ones can increase current oil production by 3-5 times. An example is the Bazhenov formation in Russia, which can give about 30 billion tons profitable reserves ( compared to about 9 billion tons of all current Russian oil profitable reserves).

Similar formations are located in Europe – in Germany, in Hungary and in UK – and they are comparable in their volumes to Russian ones. With adequate technologies, mainly nanotechnologies, these reserves could become serious sources of hydrocarbon fuel for European countries.

What are the major issues encountered when trying to exploit these resources?

Just imagine: the typical pore size in such fields is a few tens of nanometers in diameter - the same order of magnitude as the size of oil molecules. It means that completely new principles need to be applied to understand the physics of the recovery process. What is known as nanofluidics is the best fitting area of science and one of my works describes the basics of oil nanofluidics necessary to calculate and model the recovery process parameters.

After you can understand what happens inside the formation,  you still face the problem of high energy consumption due to higher pressure required, much more water-cut in the resulted mix and finally low recovery index. Thus the challenge is to find technologies that can help to reduce the energy consumption, first of all, by increasing the recovery index.

Could you briefly summarise your work relating to ‘hard-to-recover’ oil reserves and nanotechnology?

I have given a lot of attention to the basic problems of the displacement of oil from such layers. In 1998, by the Russian academy of natural sciences, I was officially acknowledged as the author of discovery “Laws governing the displacement of oil in the porous media”. On the basis of this discovery and more than 500 of my publications, the role of nano-phenomena with respect to the extraction of oil became intelligible.

As a result it became possible to develop a number of nanotechnologies which increase the effectiveness of oil production. At least one branch of such nanotechnologies can be mentioned – the use of surfactant nanoparticles serving as a clay stabilizers and at the same time as a modifiers for both fluids participating in the displacement process i.e. oil and water.

How does this affect the energy consumption of the oil recovery? How is this calculated?

The energy consumption savings can be calculated in the following areas: (per 1 m³ of the crude oil production):

  • 1.5 MJ – due to prevention of gum and paraffin deposition;
  • 2.5 MJ – due to decreased pressure of water injection;
  • 18 MJ – due to decreased water-cut value;
  • 30 MJ – due to the decrease of the mixture temperature during oil-water separation.

Thus in total the energy consumption efficiency can be increased by more than 50 MJ per 1m³. When multiplied to all Russia’s oil production, it would give about 100 000 TJ each year. That is more than 25 billion kWh of electrical energy or more than 2 billion dollars economy yearly.

I had a chance to verify this calculation on particular fields when I participated in the power consumption audit project for an oil-producing company in Russia.

What are the benefits of magnet pre-treatment of the water before injection?

As I mentioned previously, in tight formations the pores are very small and there is serious difficulty in pushing water through them. We found that magnet pre-treatment changes the clustering patterns in the water. As a result the water flows much more easily. Magnetic pretreatment of the water before injection leads to around a 2 fold increase of the water volume injected into the layer at the same injection pressure.

How has this technology been implemented in a real-world situation and what are the results?

In a real-world situation of course there exist some problems.

I remember a story from when I first arranged implementation of the modifications of the polymer technology on the well site. The chief geologist of the oil company for a long time refused to get the permission because he didn’t trust in “formulas and calculations”. The risk for him was in delaying the production and getting no effect or one that was too small – it was a risk with serious costs.

Finally he got his permission, and this technology give more than 450 thousand tons of additional oil! After few years he sent me his book with personal dedication: “To the main ideologist of the tight formations development”.

How could this nanotechnology use affect Russia’s oil production economically?

Oil and gas represent the main part of the energy balance in the Russian, as well as the world, economy. The key features of the current situation with crude oil production in Russia are the following. On the one hand, volume of production from traditional and long exploited fields is falling due to the exhaustion of the conventional reserves.

On the other hand, new fields have the so called hard-to-recover reserves or high quality reserves which are located far from existing infrastructure. This in turn causes high indirect costs in new development projects and low overall marginal profit.

Finally, most prospective fields are located in vulnerable ecological systems like Arctic regions, tundra zones, swamp lands, shelf etc. Correct environmental protection and reclaim require even more expenses from new and existing projects. New technologies can provide additional profitability to carry out all this work.

Do you collaborate with industries on an international scale?

Of course! My contractors in Russia are now well-known on the worldwide oil production market, the TatNeft group and TNK-BP group. I also have collaboration with a French-born global company – Total S.A.

In fact, most modern technologies can only be implemented on the basis of international cooperation. This is because most of prospective fields are developed by wide alliances of companies and the most effective approaches can be evaluated as a pilot experiments. Then the technique cannot be just applied to another field – it should be adopted because every new field has its own unique features. And this is why the company’s officers invite me to participate in scientific collaboration.

How do you see this technology progressing in the next few years? Are there any difficulties that still need to be overcome?

The nanotechnologies developed can be used throughout the world, potentially reaching the following targets:

  • increase in the oil recovery index to 50-65%
  • increase in gas rate to 2,5 times
  • decrease in power consumption of more than 100 000 TJ each year (more than 25 billion kWh) in Russia and more than 350 000 TJ throughout the world
  • reduction in the prime cost of oil production on the active reserves to 1-2 dollars per barrel
  • conversion of the technologically hard-to-recover oil reserves into active reserves, and the economically unprofitable oil reserves into the profitable reserves
  • profitable development of the layers of gas-hydrates (the volume of methane in these is thousands of times more than the now open volumes of hydrocarbons)
  • conversion of greenhouse methane into fuel
  • effective collection of any spilled oil during offshore production
  • significant reduction in the quantity of explosions of methanecarbon suspension due to coal mining
  • the prolongation of the Golden Age of hydrocarbon power engineering

The nanotechnological revolution is occurring across all branches of industry, and oil and gas production is not the exception. I am confident that the effectiveness of oil and gas industry will grow considerably within the next 5 years, but difficulties are connected with the fact that each oil and gas field is as unique as each person.

Therefore with the general progress in the creation of the effective technologies (including nanotechnologies) of oil and gas production, it is necessary for each layer to conduct detailed studies of its “health” (basic geological and fluidical parameters) and to create for each layer the complex of the maintenance procedures “of health necessary only for it” (effective the technology complex for recovery of hydrocarbons).

Much money will be required for these studies, but they will return repeatedly: oil and gas production is and will remain one of the most profitable directions for investment.

About Professor Alexander Khavkin

Professor Alexander Khavkin

Khavkin Alexander Ya. is the Doctor of Technical Sciences, Deputy General Director of the Geology and Development of Fuel Fossil Institute (Moscow), the Honorary Oilman of the Russia, the member of SPE and EAGE. He is a full member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, the European Academy of Natural Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences.

He is the author of the scientific discovery «Laws of oil displacement in porous media» (1989) revealing the role of wetting nanophenomena in processes of oil displacement, new directions in nanoscience (in the area of oil and gas recovery). He is also the author of more than 500 publications (including 11 monographs and 50 patents of the Russian Federation), a participant of international symposia in Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Hungary, Japan, Norway, Russia, Spain, UK.

He is the laureate of three Russia brunched awards and has been rewarded (2010) by UNESCO Medal «Contribution to the development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies»

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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