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Elevated temperature applications of PCP
Elevated-temperature applications can be divided into medium- and high-temperature categories.
Medium temperature category
The medium-temperature category covers deeper-well applications with natural, higher-temperature reservoir conditions ranging from 40°C [104°F] to ≈ 100°C [212°F]. Field experience has proved that progressive cavity (PC) pumps can be used successfully in wells producing fluids within this temperature range if the fluid temperatures remain relatively constant. However, to achieve reasonable run lives in such wells, additional attention must be given to elastomer and pump model selection, pump sizing practices, and system operation. The importance of these considerations rises substantially as temperatures increase toward the higher end of this range. In such applications, some additional investigations should be undertaken to assess the effects that elevated temperatures may have on the compatibility of the selected elastomer and the produced fluids. Stator elastomer debonding problems may be encountered in wells producing high-water-cut fluids at bottomhole temperatures exceeding ≈ 85°C [185°F].
High temperature category
Applications that fall into the high-temperature category (temperatures > 100°C [212°F]) include many geothermal wells and most thermal recovery operations. Thermal operations include:
- Mature steamfloods in which the temperatures are also relatively constant but may be as high as 200°C [400°F]
- Cyclic steam operations in which the temperatures can be even higher and typically change substantially
- Steam-assisted gravity-drainage wells, which may operate over a wide range of high-temperature and -pressure conditions
Currently, such high-temperature applications pose significant challenges to routine PCP system use, and most of the relevant experience to date has been acquired through various experimental projects. Although the results from high-temperature tests conducted recently by various PC pump manufacturers under controlled laboratory conditions have shown considerable improvement and promise, caution is warranted in translating such results to a field application because other factors besides temperature may affect performance under the downhole operating conditions. Nevertheless, given the potential market, both equipment manufacturers and operators continue to actively pursue alternative pump design and elastomer developments to effectively extend the service temperature range of PC pumps for such applications.
Although the tolerance that elastomers have for high temperatures varies significantly with formulation, the different elastomers used in PC pumps will all begin to experience permanent chemical and physical changes with continued exposure to temperatures above their respective limits. These changes may cause the elastomer to become hard, brittle, and cracked and, in some cases, to shrink, which typically results in rapid deterioration in pump performance. In addition, the susceptibility of elastomers to damaging chemical attack always increases with higher temperatures. A general assessment of the values in the product literature from several different PC pump vendors indicates that the temperature limit for NBR elastomers is typically 100°C [212°F]; the limits for HNBR elastomers are 125°C [265°F] (sulfur cured) and 150°C [318°F] (peroxide cured); and for FKM elastomers, 200°C [425°F]. High temperature resistance typically comes at the expense of other desirable attributes, such as good mechanical properties (e.g., abrasion resistance), and these requirements often limit elastomer selection.
Problems caused by temperature variation
Severe problems with the sizing and performance of PC pumps are most common when the producing temperatures in a well fluctuate substantially. Although different-sized rotors may be interchanged to compensate for gradual temperature changes over several months, installation of PC pumps in wells in which the bottomhole temperature varies regularly by > 15°C [27°F] is usually not recommended.
The thermal expansion coefficient of elastomers is approximately an order of magnitude higher than that of steel. Temperature changes cause stator elastomers to expand and contract far more than the steel tube housing or the mating steel rotor. The stator housings are also much stiffer than the elastomeric sleeve, so the thermal expansion of the elastomer leads to inward deformation and distortion of the pump cavity. The magnitude of the distortion is proportional to the elastomer thickness at any given point on the pump cross section. Fig. 1 shows the change in stator cavity geometry with increasing thermal expansion of the elastomer. It is important to understand that thermal expansion changes are independent of any fluid-induced swell effects, which can exacerbate pump sizing problems. As a result, some vendors now offer high-temperature bench-testing capabilities as a means to eliminate elastomer thermal expansion as a parameter to be addressed indirectly in the sizing of PC pumps. Because pump performance and fit are highly dependent on temperature, caution should be exercised when bench-test results from different vendors are compared to ensure consistency among test parameters.
In certain situations, rod space-out procedures must take thermal expansion into consideration. If the tubing is anchored, temperature changes will cause the rod string to lengthen relative to the constrained tubing. For example, an average temperature rise of 50°C [106°F] will cause a 1000-m [3,280-ft] rod string to increase in length by > 0.5 m [1.6 ft]. However, temperature variations do not affect spaceout in wells with unanchored tubing because the resultant lengthening of the rod string and tubing is equal.
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