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Applications of nanotechnology

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Nanotechnology has become the buzz word of the decade! The precise manipulation and control of matter at dimensions of (1-100) nanometers have revolutionized many industries including the Oil and Gas industry. Its broad impact on more than one discipline is making it of increasing interest to concerned parties.

What is nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is the use of very small pieces of material, at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, by themselves or their manipulation to create new large scale materials, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. In simple terms, Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the Nano-scale. Nanotechnology draws its name from the prefix "nano". A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter- a distance equal to two to twenty atoms (depending on what type of atom) laid down next to each other. Nanotechnology refers to manipulating the structure of matter on a length scale of some small number of nanometers, interpreted by different people at different times as meaning anything from 0.1 nm (controlling the arrangement of individual atoms) to 100 nm or more.

Richard Feynman was the first scientist to suggest (in 1959) that devices and materials could someday be fabricated to atomic specifications. "The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom". This concept was expanded and popularized in a 1986 book ‘Engines of Creation’ by K Eric Drexler, who applied the term nanotechnology to Feynman's vision.

Engineered nanoparticles

The tiny nature of nanoparticles results in some useful characteristics, such as an increased surface area to which other materials can bond in ways that make for stronger or more lightweight materials. At the nanoscale, size does matter when it comes to how molecules react to and bond with each other. Suspensions of nanoparticles are possible because the interaction of the particle surface with the solvent is strong enough to overcome differences in density, which usually result in a material either sinking or floating in a liquid forming ‘Nanofluid’.

Applications in the oil and gas industry


Nanosensors, ranging from 1-100 nm, have captured the attention and imagination of petroleum geologists.[1] Nanoparticles with noticeable alterations in optical, magnetic, and electrical properties compared to their bulk counterparts are excellent tools for the development of sensors and the formation of imaging contrast agents.[2] Hyperpolarized silicon nanoparticles provide a novel tool for measuring and imaging in oil exploration.[3] There are now several active and promising programmes to develop nanosensors compatible with temperature and pressure ratings in deep wells and hostile environments. Nanosensors are deployed in the pore space by means of “nanodust” to provide data on reservoir characterization, fluid-flow monitoring, and fluid-type recognition.[4] In addition, nanotechnology has the potential to help develop geothermal resources by enhancing thermal conductivity, and nano-based materials could be used for geothermal production. Nanoscale metals have already been used to delineate ore deposits for geochemical exploration.[5]

Drilling and completion

Drilling fluids

Fluid Loss Control and Wellbore stability

In shale formations with nanodarcy (nd) permeability, the nanometer-sized pores prevent the formation of the filter cake that is responsible for fluid loss reduction. Nanoparticles can be added to the drilling fluid to minimize shale permeability through physically plugging the nanometer-sized pores and shut off water loss. Hence, Nanoparticles can provide potential solution for environmentally sensitive areas where Oil-based muds used as a solution to shale instability problems.[6]

Bit Balling

According to[7], Nanomaterial-based drilling mud with hydrophobic film forming capability on the bit and stabilizer surfaces is expected to eliminate the bit and stabilizer balling totally. Due to high surface area to volume ratio and very low concentration requirement compared to macro and micromaterial-based fluids, nano-based fluid could be the fluid of choice for drilling in shale which is very reactive, highly pliable, and tenacious and thus can stick easily to the bit, stabilizers, tool joints, etc. as it prevents the reduction in ROP and in total operating cost.

Torque and Drag

Due to fine and very thin film forming capability of nanomaterials, nano-based fluids can provide a significant reduction of the frictional resistance between the pipe and the borehole wall due to the formation of a continuous and thin lubricating film in the wall-pipe interface. Moreover, the tiny spherical nanoparticles may create an ultra-thin bed of ball bearing type surface between the pipe and the borehole wall and thus can allow easy sliding of the drill string along the nano-based ball-bearing surface. This highlights the extraordinary role of nano-based smart fluid in reducing the torque and drags problems of horizontal, extended reach, multilateral and coiled tubing drilling.[7]

Removal of Toxic Gases

Hydrogen sulfide is a very dangerous, toxic and corrosive gas. It can diffuse into drilling fluid from formations during drilling of gas and oil wells. Hydrogen sulfide should be removed from the mud to reduce the environmental pollution, protect the health of drilling workers and prevent corrosion of pipelines and equipment. Sayyadnejad[8], used 14-25 nm zinc oxide particles size and 44-56 m2/g specific surface area to remove hydrogen sulfide from water-based drilling fluid according to the following chemical reaction (ZnO + H2S → ZnS + H2O)

The efficiency of these nanoparticles in the removal of hydrogen sulfide from drilling mud was evaluated and compared with that of bulk zinc oxide. Their results demonstrated that synthesized zinc oxide nanoparticles are completely able to remove hydrogen sulfide from water based drilling mud in about 15 min., whereas bulk zinc oxide is able to remove 2.5% of hydrogen sulfide in as long as 90 min. under the same operating conditions.

High Temperature and High Pressure (HTHP) Challenges

In high temperature and high pressure drilling (HTHP) operations, usual drilling fluid systems have relatively poor heat transfer coefficient. The cooling efficiency of the traditional drilling fluids decreases due to slow dissipation of heat from the surfaces of down hole tools and equipment. Hence, there is a higher scope of equipment failure due to thermal degradation effect of high temperature. The extremely high surface area to volume ratio of nanoparticles enhances the thermal conductivity of Nano-based drilling fluids which provides efficient cooling of drill bit leading to a significant increase in operating life cycle of a drill bit. Due to the presence of an astronomical high number of extremely tiny particles with huge surface area, high heat tolerance, high thermal conductivity, high mobility, effective interaction with external and internal rock surfaces, nano-based drilling mud systems are expected to play a pivotal role in current and future HTHP drilling operations, complex drilling conditions, deep water drilling operations, etc.[9]

Increase down hole tools life

Because of their extremely small size, nanoparticles are preferred to be used in drilling fluid design as their abrasive forces are negligible with less kinetic energy impact. In addition to all advantages of using nanoparticle in mud design, it is safer than conventional mud from the point of environmental view. The nanoparticles are added to mud in small amount, with low concentration about 1%. So, Nano-based drilling fluids could be the fluid of choice in conducting drilling operations in sensitive environments to protect other natural resources.[9]

Drilling bits

Nanodiamond PDC Technology: Carbon nanomaterials are extremely interesting because of their unique combination of mechanical, structural, electrical and thermal properties. In case of challenging drilling operations, harsher conditions are met and the need for effective drilling bits increases. Nanodiamond particles have been functionalized for polycrystalline diamond applications such as polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) cutters for drill bits. They give PDC cutters unique surface characteristics that allow them to integrate homogeneously into PDC synthesis. Chakraborty[10], studied the functionalization of nanodiamond, integration into the PDC matrix and subsequent property enhancement in comparison to the base PDC matrix. The performance of PDC cutters produced, the behaviors and proposed mechanisms are still an area of interest.

Down hole tools

High Strength Nanostructured Materials

Flow control and Completion devices such as fracturing balls, discs, and plugs are used for sleeve actuation or stimulation diversion during fracturing. Traditional light weight material for ball or plug applications are prone to early yielding or shape changes. The yield strength of conventional aluminum alloys is usually less than 400 MPa. Using controlled electrolytic metallic (CEM) nanostructured material that is lighter than aluminum and stronger than some mild steels, but disintegrates when it is exposed to the appropriate fluid. The disintegration process works through electrochemical reactions that are controlled by nanoscale coatings within the composite grain structure. The nanomatrix of the material is high strength and has unique chemical properties that conventional materials do not.


Logging-while-drilling (LWD)

Currently, almost all available neutron porosity logging-while-drilling (LWD) tools use He-3 detectors to detect neutrons down hole due to their mechanical robustness and the absence of the limitations to operate at high temperatures. Unfortunately, the lack of sufficient quantities of the He-3 isotope caused by the depletion of its stockpile accumulated during the Cold War makes this material unavailable to well logging industry for the next 3 to 5 years. Among all other available neutron detection technologies, only Li-6 scintillation detectors do not have limitations on neutron detection efficiency that would prevent them from consideration for LWD applications.[11] The key component of Li-6 scintillation detector is the scintillation material containing Li-6 isotope. To be used as detectors for neutron porosity LWD tools based on pulsed neutron generators (PNG), such material should be able to operate at high temperature and enable large neutron detector constructions. Nikitin and Korjik[11], presented new Li-6 scintillation nanostructured glass-ceramics that perform substantially better than all available Li-6 scintillation materials. It is this performance improvement provided by nanostructured nature of obtained material which enables its use in the neutron detectors of PNG-based neutron porosity LWD tools.


Recovery of hydrates

Gas Hydrate is an ice-like crystalline solid formed from a mixture of water and natural gas, usually methane. Hydrates can produce 160 times their volume of methane which is an infinite source of energy waiting to be tapped.

Bhatia and Chacko[12], mentioned that the recovery of gas from hydrates requires the dissociation of gas hydrates which can be accomplished in at least three ways: thermal recovery, depressurization or by chemical inhibition. But, the problems associated are:Most chemical additives (salt, methanol, and glycol) cause pipe and equipment corrosion, ecological problems. Preheated gas or liquid transportation down to hydrate zone is accompanied by extensive heat loss. Microwave or electromagnetic method also requires vast energy transfer to decomposition zone and is inefficient.

Bhatia and Chacko[12], suggested the injection of air-suspended self-heating Ni-Fe nanoparticles (50 nm) in the hydrate formation through horizontal well. These particles will penetrate deep into the class I, II and H hydrate reservoir by passing through the cavities (86-95 nm). The self-heating of Ni-Fe particles in a magnetic field is caused by hysteresis loss and relaxation losses. These particles cause a temperature rise up to 42 0C in formation leading to disturbance in thermodynamic equilibrium and causing the water cage to decompose and release methane. In this technique, the pressure of the fluids in contact with hydrate is lowered, pushing the hydrate out of its stability region and leading to its decomposition.

Bhatia and Chacko[12], discovered that the less expensive, readily available Eggwhite (Ovalbumin) can catalyze the reaction which results in large scale formation of these nanoparticles. The main advantage of this technique is the very low dosage requirements (small quantity required for 1m3 of Hydrate decomposition). Moreover, the nanoparticles used are non-poisonous, environment friendly.


Viscoelastic Surfactant (VES) Stimulation Fluid: High-molecular-weight cross-linked polymer fluids have been used to stimulate oil and gas wells for decades. These fluids exhibit exceptional viscosity, thermal stability, proppant transportability, and fluid leak-off control. However, a major drawback of cross-linked polymer fluids is the amount of polymer residue they leave behind. Polymer residue has been shown to significantly damage formation permeability and fracture conductivity.

Recently, viscoelastic surfactant (VES) fluids composed of low-molecular-weight surfactants have been used as hydraulic fracturing and frac-packing fluids. The surfactants structurally arrange in brine to form rod-like micelles that exhibit viscoelastic fluid behavior. VES fluids, once broken, leave very little residue or production damage. However, excessive fluid leak-off and poor thermal stability has significantly limited their use.[13]

Huang[14], investigated the nanometer-scale particles and displayed unusual surface morphologies and have high surface reactivity. These nanometer-scale particles, through chemisorption and surface charge attraction, associate with VES micelles to: 1) stabilize fluid viscosity at high temperatures; and 2) produce a pseudo filter cake of viscous VES fluid that significantly reduces the rate of fluid loss and improves fluid efficiency. When internal breakers are used to break the VES micelles, the fluid will dramatically lose its viscosity and the pseudo-filter cake will then break into nanometer-sized particles. Since the particles are small enough to pass through the pore throat of producing formations, they will be flowed back with the producing fluids, and no damage will be generated. The results of rheology leak-off and core flow tests will be presented for the VES fluid systems at temperatures 150°F and 250°F.

Scale inhibition

Kumar[15] provided a new idea that can potentially inhibit the formation of scales inside the production tubing by creating a super hydrophobic surface with multi-scale nano structures on the inside of the production tubing can greatly reduce the chances of scale deposition. This surface is created on epoxy paint surfaces using a feasible dip coating process. Microstructures are created on this surface using sandblast. Then nano structures are introduced on to the micro surface by anchoring 50-100 micro-meter SiO2 particles and finally completed by dip coating with nano SiO2/epoxy adhesive solution.

The hydrophobicity is further enhanced by another dip coating of a low surface energy polymer, aminopropyl. The super hydrophobic surface shows a contact angle of 167.8 degrees[16] for water, and has high stability in basic and common organic solvents.[15]

Reservoir characterization and management

Enhanced oil recovery

Nanoparticles are small enough to pass through pore throats in typical reservoirs, but they nevertheless can be retained by the rock. Rodriguez[17], injected concentrated (up to ~20 wt. %) aqueous suspensions of surface-treated silica nanoparticles (D = 5 nm and 20 nm) into sedimentary rocks of different lithologies and permeabilities. The particles generally undergo little ultimate retention, nearly all being eluted by a lengthy post flush. The Nanoparticles in an aqueous dispersion will assemble themselves into structural arrays at a discontinuous phase such as oil, gas, paraffin, or polymer. The particles that are present in this three-phase contact region tend to form a wedge-like structure and force themselves between the discontinuous phase and the substrate. 

Particles present in the bulk fluid exert pressure forcing the particles in the confined region forward, imparting the disjoining pressure force. The energies that drive this mechanism are Brownian motion, and electrostatic repulsion between the particles. The force imparted by a single particle is extremely weak, but when large amounts of small particles are present, referred to as the particle volume fraction, the force can be upwards of 50,000 Pa at the vertex.

When this force is confined to the vertex of the discontinuous phases, displacement occurs in an attempt to regain equilibrium. Ogolo[18], used nanoparticles oxides of Aluminum, Zinc, Magnesium, Iron, Zirconium, Nickel, Tin and Silicon. It was imperative to find out the effect of these nanoparticle oxides on oil recovery since this is the primary objective of the oil industry.

Nanosensors for hydrocarbon detection in oil-field rocks

Nanoparticles that show minimal retention can be employed as sensing-capability carrier to detect fluid and rock properties of the producing zone. For example, paramagnetic nanoparticles delivered to the target formation could evaluate fluids saturations there, with application of magnetic field and measurement of response.[18] In other words, Sequestering a hydrophobic compound in a Nanoparticle (NP) composed of an oxidized carbon core and a polymer shell can be extended to efficiently transport hydrophobic compounds through oil-field rocks and selectively release them when the rock contains oil. These readily-prepared NPs bearing cargo could be injected into the subsurface and then recovered and analyzed for the presence of the cargo; release of the cargo would indicate the presence of oil. When used in this manner, the NPs can be described as nanoreporters.[19]

Oil-microbe detection tool using nano optical fibers

Nano Optical Fibers are used for transmission of laser light, penetrating the formation, to the required destination in the porous rock matrix and receive the reflected light.

Jahagirdar,[20] proposed the ‘Oil-Microbe Detection Tool’, using Nano optical fibers as a part of the tool, to detect he bypassed oil or the oil left behind after waterflooding, which has followed a cycle of Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR). This methodology makes the planning of EOR operation, after knowing the precise regions where bypassed oil resides, easier and efficient.

Refining and processing

The oil refining and petrochemical industry is the first area to which Nanotechnology has contributed with lots of applications and potential solution to its challenges. Nanoparticle catalysts have been used for almost 100 years in the refinery industry.

During the last two decades, nanotechnology has made substantial contributions to refining and converting fossil fuels. The development of mesoporous catalyst materials such as MCM-41 has significantly changed downstream refining. Nano-filters and particles have the ability to remove harmful toxic substances such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and related acids and acid anhydrides from vapor, and mercury from soil and water, with exact precision.

Nanotechnology further provides solutions for carbon capture and long-term storage. Emerging nanotechnology has opened the door to the development of a new generation of nanomembranes for enhanced separation of gas streams and removal of impurities from oil.[5]

Upgrading of bitumen and heavy crude oil has been another important challenge. Because of their high density and viscosity, it is difficult to handle and transport these chemicals to locations where they can be converted into valuable products. Nano-catalysts may offer a solution for on-site upgrading of bitumen and heavy crude oil.[21] Significant resources and intense research activities have been devoted to develop processes and specifically designed nanocatalysts for on-site field upgrading combined with hydrogen/methane production.[4]


There are numerous areas of the petroleum industry where nanotechnology can contribute to more efficient, less expensive, and more environmentally technologies than those that are readily available. The future possibilities for nanotechnology in the petroleum industry are identified as follows [4] [5] [22] [23] :

  1. Improved success of exploration by improving data gathering, recognizing shallow hazards, and avoiding dry holes.
  2. Nanotechnology-enhanced materials that provide strength and endurance to increase performance and reliability in drilling, tubular goods, and rotating parts.
  3. Improved elastomers, critical to deep drilling and drilling in high-temperature/high-pressure environments.
  4. Production assurance in diagnostics, monitoring surveillance, and management strategies.
  5. Corrosion management for surface, subsurface, and facilities applications.
  6. Lightweight, rugged materials that reduce weight requirements on offshore platforms, and more reliable and more energy-efficient transportation vessels.
  7. Selective filtration and waste management for water and carbon nanotube applications.
  8. Enhanced oil and gas recovery through reservoir property modification, facility retrofitting, gas property modification, and water injection.
  9. Refining and petrochemicals technologies.


  1. Pitkethly, M.J. 2004. Nanomaterials-The Driving Force. Matter Today 7: 20-29.
  2. Krishnamoorti, R. 2006. Extracting the Benefits of Nanotechnology for the Oil Industry. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  3. Song, Y.Q, and Marcus, C. 2007. Hyperpolarized Silicon Nanoparticles: Reinventing Oil Exploration? Presentation.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Esmaeili, Abdollah. 2009. Applications of Nanotechnology in Oil and Gas Industry, Presented at Petrotech. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r4" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r4" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Kong, X., & Ohadi, M. 2010. Applications of Micro and Nano Technologies in the Oil and Gas Industry - Overview of the Recent Progress. Society of Petroleum Engineers. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r5" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r5" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Hoelscher, K. P., De Stefano, G., Riley, M., & Young, S. (2012, January 1). Application of Nanotechnology in Drilling Fluids. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Amanullah, M., & Al-Tahini, A. M. 2009. Nano-Technology - Its Significance in Smart Fluid Development for Oil and Gas Field Application. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  8. Sayyadnejad, M. A., Ghaffarian, H. R., and Saeidi, M. 2008. Removal of hydrogen sulfide by zinc oxide nanoparticles in drilling fluid. International Journal of Environmental Science & Technology, 5(4), pp. 565-569.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Amanullah, M., AlArfaj, M. K., & Al-abdullatif Ziad Abdullrahman. 2011. Preliminary Test Results of Nano-based Drilling Fluids for Oil and Gas Field Application. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  10. Chakraborty, S., Agrawal, G., DiGiovanni, A., & Scott, D. E. 2012. The Trick Is The Surface - Functionalized Nanodiamond PDC Technology. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Nikitin, A., & Korjik, M. 2012. An Impact of Nanotechnology on the Next Generation of Neutron Porosity LWD Tools. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Bhatia, K. H., & Chacko, L. P. 2011. A Novel Approach to Recover Hydrates Using Ni-Fe Nanoparticles. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  13. Crews, J. B., & Huang, T. 2008. Performance Enhancements of Viscoelastic Surfactant Stimulation Fluids With Nanoparticles. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  14. Huang, T., & Crews, J. B. 2007. Nanotechnology Applications in Viscoelastic Surfactant Stimulation Fluids. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Kumar, D., Chishti, S. S., Rai, A., & Patwardhan, S. D. 2012. Scale Inhibition Using nano-silica Particles. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  16. Cui, Z., Yin, L., Wang, Q., Ding, J., Chen, Q. 2009. A facile dip-coating process for preparing highly durable superhydrophobic surface with multi-scale structures on paint films, Journal of Colloid and Interface Science. 337, 2.
  17. Rodriguez Pin, E., Roberts, M., Yu, H., Huh, C., & Bryant, S. L. 2009. Enhanced Migration of Surface-Treated Nanoparticles in Sedimentary Rocks. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Ogolo, N. A., Olafuyi, O. A., & Onyekonwu, M. O. 2012. Enhanced Oil Recovery Using Nanoparticles. Society of Petroleum Engineers. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r17" defined multiple times with different content
  19. Berlin, J. M., Yu, J., Lu, W., Walsh, E. E., Zhang, L., Zhang, P,. Tour, J. M. 2011. Engineered Nanoparticles for Hydrocarbon Dectection in Oil-Field Rocks. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  20. Jahagirdar, S. R. 2008. Oil-Microbe Detection Tool Using Nano Optical Fibers. Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  21. Ying, J.Y, and Sun, T. 1997. Research Needs Assessment on Nano-structured Catalysts, Journal of Electroceramics, 1 (3): 219-238.
  22. Mokhatab, Saeid, Fresky, M.A, and Rafiqul Islam, M. 2006 Applications of Nanotechnology in Oil and Gas E&P, Journal of Petroleum Technology 58 (4).
  23. Jackson, S. A. 2005. Innovation and Human Capital: Energy Security and the Quiet Crisis, American Petroleum Institute.

Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

Abdelrahman I. El-Diasty and Adel M. Salem: 2013. Applications of Nanotechnology in the Oil & Gas Industry: Latest Trends Worldwide & Future Challenges in Egypt. SPE 164716, Applications of nanotechnology page is based off of this paper

Kazemi, N., Wilson, M., Kapur, N., Fleming, N., & Neville, A. 2012. Preventing Adhesion of Scale on Rock by Nanoscale Modification of the Surface. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Maserati, G., Daturi, E., Del Gaudio, L., Belloni, A., Bolzoni, S., Lazzari, W., & Leo, G. 2010. Nano-emulsions as Cement Spacer Improve the Cleaning of Casing Bore During Cementing Operations. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Rahimirad, M., & Dehghani Baghbadorani, J. 2012. Properties of Oil Well Cement Reinforced by Carbon Nanotubes. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Salinas, B. J., Xu, Z., Agrawal, G., & Richard, B. M. 2012. Controlled Electrolytic Metallics - An Interventionless Nanostructured Platform. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Santra, A. K., Boul, P., & Pang, X. 2012. Influence of Nanomaterials in Oilwell Cement Hydration and Mechanical Properties. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Zhang, T., Espinosa, D., Yoon, K. Y., Rahmani, A. R., Yu, H., Caldelas, F. M., … Huh, C. 2011. Engineered Nanoparticles as Harsh-Condition Emulsion and Foam Stabilizers and as Novel Sensors. Offshore Technology Conference.

Zhang, Z., Xu, Z., & Salinas, B. J. 2012. High Strength Nanostructured Materials and Their Oil Field Applications. Society of Petroleum Engineers.

See also

Nanotechnology in hydrogen sulfide detection

External links

Application of nanotechnology for enhancing oil recovery presentation

O&G Companies Pushing E&P Limits with Nanotechnology

Advances In Nanotechnology Hold Huge Potential Promise In Upstream Applications

Page champions

Abdelrahman I. El-Diasty - Vice President, Petroleum Engineering - Prime Rock EnCap