Graphene could become essential to efficient and environmentally sound oil production, according to Rice University researchers.
The scientists claim that by taking advantage of graphene’s strength, light weight and solubility, they can enhance the fluids used to drill oil wells.
These fluids are pumped into wells as part of the process to keep drill bits clean and to remove cuttings. With traditional clay-enhanced muds, differential pressure forms a layer on the wellbore called a filter cake, which keeps the oil from flowing out and drilling fluids from invading the tiny, oil-producing pores.
James Tour, a chemist from Rice University, and scientists at M-I SWACO, a Texas-based supplier of drilling fluids and subsidiary of oil-services provider Schlumberger, claim the functionalised graphene oxide they have produced alleviates the clogging of oil-producing pores in newly drilled wells.
The solution was to ‘esterify’ graphene oxide flakes with alcohol. ‘It’s a simple, one-step reaction,’ said Tour. ‘Graphene oxide functionalised with alcohol works much better, because it doesn’t precipitate in the presence of salts. There’s nothing exotic about it.’
Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon that won its discoverers a Nobel Prize last year.
The research was published this month in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.