We should learn to think out of the box
Head of New Materials Development Programs at Gazpromneft Science and Technology Center Pavel Arzumanyan shared with Siberskaya Neft (Siberian Oil) Magazine his insight as to how the oil industry could be changed with the help of materials science.
Siberskaya Neft Magazine
- Why did it become necessary to create a special program to develop new materials for the oil industry?
The oil and gas industry uses very few new materials so far. Now we are seeing the emergence of new structural elements made of wear-resistant materials, modified liquids for drilling and injection into a reservoir, coatings for surface treatment of working parts, but nobody seems to be constantly on the lookout for innovative solutions. As for manufacturers, they are naturally interested in improving their products, although more often than not they have very little idea bout the end user's individual needs. Meanwhile, such work requires heavy investments in the development, production upgrade, standardization, and operational transformation. We believe that the changes must be driven by the companies – consumers of products or services, in other words, by us. We should identify weaknesses, keep track of the latest developments around the world, and generate our own ideas for improving all technological processes. Nobody knows our problems better than we do. We are presenting these challenges to R&D institutions so we can join our efforts in finding the solutions. Then, if a solution is available and technology is workable, we pass it on to the manufacturers for scaling thus building a more efficient relationship with service companies.
I think that the key objective of our program is to learn to think differently, out of the box, move away from our narrow discipline. There is a common way of addressing the problem, but perhaps it can be solved differently. What this program is about, is structuring a wide variety of new materials, and bridging gaps between science, production and service. There are actually a lot of R&D efforts and products available, but the Russian manufacturers providing support to the oil and gas industry show lack of interest. The program is designed to build a platform for joining efforts, to provide a more effective knowledge sharing process and form project teams and consortia that will take the company to the next technological level.
– How are you planning to address these issues? Who will you bring in as your partners?
We work together with scientific research institutes, innovative scientific and technical centers, universities, laboratories and R & D centers. Talking about new materials, we are primarily engaged with institutions that have experience working with the aerospace and mechanical engineering industries, defense, medical, pharmaceutical, petrochemical industries, etc. On the other hand, we collaborate with manufacturing companies and service firms in an effort to bring the latest developments and technologies to mass production line faster. For the time being we are actively working with the Ufa-based Institute of Petroleum Refining and Petrochemical Engineering in partnership with the cluster of small petrochemical manufactures, with the Magnitogorsk State Technical University and the MMK integrated metallurgical operations Skolkovo, the ‘Composite Valley’ and other innovative players.
– What are the most promising areas of development of new materials for the oil industry?
Enhanced oil recovery and simulated flow methods, well drilling and construction technologies, oil production and pretreatment techniques, infrastructure development and construction activities, hydrocarbons transportation and processing operations – virtually all technological processes in the oil industry are potential areas for developing new materials. The most prominent breakthrough technologies can be expected to work with a reservoir where there is a need for process control at micro levels in aggressive media and complex temperature and pressure conditions.
One of such promising areas is hydraulic fracturing faced with a whole lot of challenges, which, if solved, may change this market segment. Proppants that nowadays are made from various minerals (quartz, magnesites, and ceramics) have high density. The concept is to reduce the density of the materials, to bring it closer to the density of liquid used to deliver a proppant to cracks, while preserving the physical and mechanical properties of granules. This may sound a little controversial, however modern technologies allow us to come closer to solving this problem by creating composite materials, micro-structural materials, or granules filled with special materials. There can be a host of available options and today we are working on them in conjunction with Skoltech.
Other solutions might be offered like creating an additional agent that is mixed with conventional proppant granules that will enable them to be distributed in a fracture in a better way, prevent the agent from settling down, and after a while will get it to be dissolved and to be washed out of the wellbore.
Another project related to hydraulic fracturing is targeted at finding a replacement for guar gum. This is a thickener that makes it possible to produce special gel for hydraulic fracturing. It is prepared from seeds of guar primarily coming from Pakistan. And the entire huge global market of hydraulic fracturing is hinged on the supply of that substance, the price of which is getting higher every year. In addition, here we are completely dependent on imports. In that project we are required either to find an inexpensive method for guar gum synthesis, or to produce an alternative substance with similar characteristics and a comparable price.
– What are the smart materials application prospects?
We are exploring the use of smart micro-capsules in various industrial processes. Such micro-containers are capable of carrying the active substance and releasing it under the impact of preplanned external factors by reacting with the environment. The shell can also be made of materials with desired properties.
Another promising area of development is thermoelectrics, i.e. materials capable of converting heat into electricity. These materials are much in demand in remote fields with no access to major power grids, where a significant amount of heat is generated as a spinoff of production process.
It would be interesting to observe the behavior of controlled rheology fluids used as drilling fluids in the well drilling process. A well is drilled through formations with different properties and different reservoir pressures while drilling fluid properties have to be modified at all times adjusting for new drilling conditions. We face challenging situations sometimes when pressure in upper formations is higher than in deeper ones leading to a potential circulation loss, complications and emergencies calling for casing to be run in hole. But if we had a drilling fluid whose properties – viscosity and density –is controllable, the drilling process would be organized differently and much more efficiently. For that purpose, for instance, we can use magnetorheological fluids whose properties change under the influence of a magnetic field. Such materials are known, the question is how to apply them in a well.
– Is there room for nanomaterials in the oil business?
While nanoindustry has proven itself as a highly efficient element in many technological processes and areas of human activity, the oil industry should not be an exception. Now a variety of nanocomponent-based coatings have found surface treatment applications in the oil industry. Every year we see a growing number of reservoir stimulation and production enhancement studies focusing on the use of nanoparticles of various materials. Studies provide evidence that catalytic nanosystems are showing new properties and a much higher efficiency. The development of sensors, detectors, and tools for monitoring and processing information is directly related to the development of the nanoindustry.
It is obvious that on their way to the next technology level oil companies must follow the developments in the nanoindustry, initiate and contribute to research efforts, and build a program of bringing research to practical use.