Sibani Lisa Biswal, the William M. McCardell Professor in Chemical Engineering at Rice, has received a National Science Foundation grant to devise nanofluids for reducing the use of dangerous solvents in oil and gas production.
“Substantial quantities of solvents are used to remove asphaltene deposits in plugged pipelines and wellbores for flow assurance,” said Biswal, who also serves as associate dean of engineering for faculty development, and professor of materials science and nanoengineering.
Her proposal for the three-year, $549,733 Partnerships for Innovation grant is titled “Micellar Nanofluids to Reduce Use of Harmful Solvents in Oil and Gas Production.”
Asphaltenes are natural substances found in crude oil. As they accumulate they can block pipes and slow production. Solvents such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, known collectively as BTEX, are used to dissolves asphaltenes. Biswal proposes replacing them with a nanofluid containing aggregated colloidal nanoparticles
“The current method is expensive and environmentally polluting,” Biswal said. “Oil and gas operators are trying to reduce the use of BTEX solvents. Our strategy is to develop a micellar formulation that utilizes multifunctional chemistries to deliver solvents directly to the organic deposits. The direct replacement nanofluids would reduce solvent use by more than 40 percent.”
Biswal hopes to determine the scalability and applicability of the micellar nanofluids approach. The technical challenges include variability of conditions such as oil type, temperatures, pressures and surface chemistries.