With their abundancy and high-quality, it is predicted that fossil fuels will remain as the main resource that will meet the global energy demand in the several upcoming decades. Developments in hydrocarbon recovery technologies, both from conventional and unconventional reservoirs, have substantially contributed to the overall production levels in recent years. However, recovery factors obtained by using the current methods are still considered to be insufficient, and the companies have been looking for new materials and methods to enhance the efficiency and amount of recovery.
One of the major issues related to low recovery factors is low permeability of reservoirs. Existence of blockages in pore throats and high level of heterogeneity lowers the mobility of hydrocarbons. In this study, we discuss development of an innovative material to be used as an additive in reservoir injection fluids to remove pore blockages in order to enhance the recovery levels.
This additive material is made of pressure-sensitive microspheres loaded with solvents, which can (i) easily disperse in the injection fluid and travel to the low-permeability regions, (ii) break under pressure and confinement to release solvents, and (iii) remove blockages by targeting surroundings, especially asphalt-based particles and grains. This approach relies on the breakage of microcapsules in the confined region and release of the solvents to target blockages in porous media. In other words, the developed microspheres improve permeability of reservoirs as a result of pressure- and confinement-dependent breakage and release of solvents. Preparation of these microspheres was achieved by the encapsulation of solvent (toluene) emulsions in silica-based solid shells. Structure and stability of the solvent-loaded microspheres were examined using a variety of analytical techniques including UV-vis spectroscopy, optical microscopy, scanning electron microscope (SEM) and dynamic light scattering (DLS). It was found that the prepared microspheres possessed smooth surfaces with shell thicknesses in the range of 100-150 nm. Additionally, sand column tests were performed to evaluate the recovery potential of injection fluids in presence of solvent-loaded microspheres. It was shown that the use of solvent encapsulated in microspheres doubled the recovery factor of heavy oil compared to that of free solvent dispersed in the injection fluid. Such enhancement in the recovery factor was related to the release of solvents in localized areas, i.e., confined regions, as a consequence of breakage of microspheres. This novel approach of delivering solvents to low-permeability regions provides a significant driving force to eliminate pore blockages to facilitate mobilization of hydrocarbons trapped in confined spaces.