Microfluidics: an enabling screening technology for enhanced oil recovery (EOR)
Oil production is a critical industrial process that affects the entire world population and any improvements in its efficiency while reducing its environmental impact are of utmost societal importance. The paper reviews recent applications of microfluidics and microtechnology to study processes of oil extraction and recovery. It shows that microfluidic devices can be useful tools in investigation and visualization of such processes used in the oil & gas industry as fluid propagation, flooding, fracturing, emulsification and many others. Critical macro-scale processes that define oil extraction and recovery are controlled by the micro-scale processes based on wetting, adhesion, surface tension, colloids and other concepts of microfluidics. A growing number of research efforts demonstrates that microfluidics is becoming, albeit slowly, an accepted methodology in this area. We propose several areas of development where implementation of microfluidics may bring about deeper understanding and hence better control over the processes of oil recovery based on fluid propagation, droplet generation, wettability control. Studies of processes such as hydraulic fracturing, sand particle propagation in porous networks, high throughput screening of chemicals (for example, emulsifiers and surfactants) in microfluidic devices that simulate oil reservoirs are proposed to improve our understanding of these complicated physico-chemical systems. We also discuss why methods of additive manufacturing (3D printing) should be evaluated for quick prototyping and modification of the three-dimensional structures replicating natural oil-bearing rock formations for studies accessible to a wider audience of researchers.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Lab on a Chip Recent Review Articles