Louis Calder Professor Emeritus,
Research Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Interfacial phenomena, especially those involving surfactants, are the focus of Professor Miller’s research. The increased emphasis in the chemical industry on specialty products has brought with it increased interest in surfactants and their applications in detergency, enhanced oil recovery, pharmaceutical and food products, ground water cleanup, agricultural chemicals, personal care products, etc.
A major part of Professor Miller’s research program in recent years has been research in collaboration with Professor Hirasaki on development of processes to use surfactants for increasing recovery of petroleum from existing reservoirs. Approximately two thirds of the oil which has already been discovered in the world cannot be recovered economically with current technology. Suitably chosen surfactants can permit recovery of oil which has been bypassed or trapped in the pores of reservoir rock during waterflooding. Of particular interest has been finding surfactant formulations which are effective in reservoirs, especially carbonate reservoirs, having high temperatures and salinities.
For surfactant and other enhanced oil recovery processes to be successful it is necessary that the injected fluids contact a large portion of the reservoir. Meeting this objective is challenging because reservoirs are typically highly heterogeneous in permeability. Injection of gas with surfactant can lead to foam formation in paths through the reservoir having the least resistance to flow, thereby diverting surfactant solution to other portions of the reservoir and increasing process efficiency. The research deals with finding surfactant formulations producing stable foams, especially at high temperatures and salinities and in the presence of crude oil.
Another line of research has been finding ways to separate oil from water in petroleum emulsions different from those produced during normal production operations. One challenge is separating oil from water in emulsions produced during surfactant enhanced oil recovery processes. The surfactant provides an additional stabilizing factor not present in the usual oilfield emulsions. Another is breaking emulsions produced during recovery of extremely viscous bitumen from Canadian oil sands. In this case emulsion stability is increased by fine clay particles, and methods must be found to remove them from the drop surfaces.
Clarence A. Miller is Louis Calder Professor Emeritus of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and a former chairman of the department. He received BA and BS degrees from Rice in 1961 and a PhD degree from the University of Minnesota in 1969, all in chemical engineering. He was a faculty member in chemical engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University for 12 years before coming to Rice in 1981. He has been a Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University, University of Bayreuth (Germany), and Delft University of Technology (Netherlands). His research interests center on surfactants, emulsions, microemulsions, and foams and their applications in detergency and enhanced oil recovery. He is coauthor of the book Interfacial Phenomena, now in its second edition, and has published approximately 150 papers in scientific and engineering journals. He has presented numerous invited lectures at conferences, universities and industrial laboratories and has served on editorial boards of journals in the field of interfacial phenomena.