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Center of Innovation for Flow Through Porous Media: Research Areas

September 5, 2017
cube of material that is black with tan lines running through it
Courtesy of COIFPM

Computational Modeling

Computational Chemistry: In order to investigate problems not directly observable through experiments, computational chemistry is a useful tool to develop insight at the molecular level. The techniques involve flexible state-of-the-art computational software and high-performance supercomputing.

Pore Network Modeling: Pore network modeling attempts to predict multiphase flow properties of a given rock/fluids system using a realistic, digital representation of the porous medium. A fully dynamic modeling approach is applied to better account for the complex dynamics of the displacement processes at the pore scale.

Atomic- and nano-scale Imaging

Atomic Resolution Imaging: By utilizing cutting-edge technology available at the center, researchers can gain an understanding of how individual atoms and molecules of rock and oil (or gas) interact with each other, allowing in-depth study of many of the inexplicable phenomena encountered in the energy industry. Understanding can be gleaned by visually observing atomic interactions with a transmission electron microscope outfitted with the unique ability to operate under conditions of varying temperatures and pressures (one of only several ETEMs in the world).

Mineral Identification and Elemental Analysis: A QEMSCAN 650F, a Helios 650 Focused Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscope (FIB-SEM), and a Helios G3 FIB-SEM allow the mineralogies of reservoir rock samples to be studied at a variety of scales in both 2-D and 3-D in order to properly characterize them for extensive use in understanding and optimizing the production of oil and gas.

Nano-Resolution Imaging: The Ziess UltraXRM-L200 nano-CT machine significantly enhances the capability of researchers to study multiphase flow in micron-sized samples from conventional and unconventional reservoirs.

Imaging and Fluid Flow

Macro-scale Tomography: The macro-scale core flooding setup integrated with a medical CT scanner is a reservoir-conditions multiphase core-flooding system. The experimental setup is a closed-loop system that allows fluids to be co-injected into the core at elevated temperatures and pressures.

Micro-Scale Tomography: Micro-computed tomography is a non-destructive and non-invasive imaging technique that uses X-rays to construct a 3-D image of the internal structure of a physical object, achieving resolutions in the sub-micrometer range. This advanced technique is employed to investigate various aspects of multiphase flow in porous media.

Optical Microscopy: One of the most critical challenges facing the oil industry today is assuring fluid flow through ultra-deep sub-sea wells. Potential impediments include the formation of organic deposits in the flow lines. To develop a better understanding of the mechanism of asphaltene deposition in crude oils and characterize the deposited fractions at ambient and reservoir conditions, the center is using different microfluidic and capillary tube configurations combined with high-resolution imaging techniques, including the IX83 inverted Olympus microscope.

Interfacial Phenomena and Phase Behavior

man working in lab working with high tech equipment
Anbari studies confined phase behavior with a state-of-the-art apparatus designed specifically to study capillary condensation in both synthetic nanopores and real reservoir rocks.

Complex Fluid and Gas Preparation: Knowledge of the reservoir fluids can only be achieved through either the procurement of fluids directly from the reservoir or the accurate replication of reservoir fluids. To keep compositions confidential and to make fluid (both gases and liquids, including live crude) preparation efficient, a gas mixing system—designed and built at UW—is used.

Confined Phase Behavior: Nano-condensation, also known as capillary condensation, is a phenomenon that occurs in tight and shale reservoirs, which have pore diameters on the order of a few nanometers. The center invented a state-of-the-art apparatus designed specifically to study capillary condensation in both synthetic nanopores and real reservoir rocks.

Interfacial Tension and Contact Angle Measurement: The center is equipped with multiple state-of-the-art interfacial tension/contact angle measurement systems that are built to perform measurements under extreme conditions. Interfacial tension and contact angle are among the most important parameters that considerably affect the fluid flow characteristics and subsequently the ultimate oil recovery from reservoir formations.

Reservoir Fluids and Core Flooding

Asphaltene Deposition: Asphaltenes are the heaviest and most polarizable components of crude oil and constitute most of the asphalt that we use to surface roadways. These molecules directly affect oil production by depositing in reservoirs, wellbores and production facilities and can also ruin costly refinery catalysts. At the center, efforts are under way to study the mechanism of asphaltene deposition as well as research new ways to use asphaltenes to synthesize valuable industrial materials and remediate the environmental impacts of asphaltene deposition after oil spills.

Macro-Scale Core Flooding: The center features state-of-the-art core-flooding setups designed to study multi-phase flow and the relevant displacement physics at the core scale. The flow systems are capable of carrying out cleaning and wettability restoration of reservoir cores at high capacity.


Micro-PIV: Flow problems set at a scale of individual reservoir rock pores employ Particle Image Velocimetry to generate data that can be used to enrich pore-scale models. Improved pore-scale models can then be deployed to test certain reservoir treatments in order to gauge their effectiveness prior to large-scale implementation.

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