March 10, 2011
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№ 1 (January 2011)

NOR Prepares Beachhead for Russian Technology Breakthrough

   Nanotechnologies and nano-applications have become a favorite topic in both the Russian media and at science conferences of late. Growing attention to processes that take place inside the space of one-billionth of a meter is not merely the new fashion – the fascination stems from ongoing scientific development combined with correct understanding of the problem, says Aleksandr Khavkin, co-director of the Oil and Gas Nanotechnology bureau section and member of the board of the Russian Nanotechnology Society (NOR).

By Elena Zhuk

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   For ordinary Russians, the word “nanotech” is most often associated with RUSNANO, the state-owned Russian Nanotechnology Corporation. In Khavkin’s opinion, despite the fact that RUSNANO was established due to the need for a deeper understanding of technology in every industry, the corporation, regrettably, has no influence over implementing these processes itself. “Perhaps RUSNANO should not support innovations fresh out of the lab, but in projects where only 10-15 percent remains to achieve commercial usage, support is needed,” the scientist says. Khavkin believes that RUSNANO employees should be specialists capable of evaluating the potential of a given technology: “This is not a bank, it is a science-and-technology structure. Of course there must be some guarantee of fitness for commercial usage, but some leeway for scientific development must remain as well.”

Circular Firing Squad

   Meanwhile, at the 2nd Nanotechnology Conference organized in October by NOR, EAGE, the Russian Federal Assembly Parliamentary Center “High technology and Intellectual Property”, the Baibakov Fund for Promoting Economic Development and the International Trade Center, Russian scientists frequently lamented the lack of resources in the field while discussing how best to create the conditions necessary for both the state and companies to invest in nanotech.
“While the state has indeed started allocating funds for projects comparable to investments abroad, it still lacks the funds required to set up industrial enterprises prepared to apply nanotechnology. And large domestic investors are in no rush to invest in high-tech production,” the State Duma expert Vladimir Babkin noted.

   In the opinion of Georgiy Malinetskiy, NOR Vice-President and deputy director of the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics, the world is bracing up for a technological breakthrough, and the nanotech industry is poised to become the locomotive of the new technological order, along with biotechnology, robotics, high-tech humanities, new medicine, and new environmental management. And now is precisely the time to decide which industries, countries, regions and corporations will be “driving” this leap and which will be “driven passed”.

   “The things being discussed here (at the conference) should be supported and implemented as soon as possible. When someone says: ‘Our company has profits of 200 percent, why do we need your science?’ – it becomes clear that something is wrong in this country. Our problems mean that we have to travel the same road other countries have already travelled in creating clean, transparent business, organizing real competition not linked to ‘kickbacks’ and focusing on the development of oil and gas technologies where we came to a standstill and were even thrown backwards,” Malinetskiy says.

   “My position,” Khavkin said, “is to ditch field projects with less than 40 percent oil production rate; then companies will have an incentive to use enhanced oil recovery technologies; the state, as the owner of mineral resources, should set its own criteria.” In Norway, for example, the oil production rate for offshore projects is 60 percent.

Changing Perceptions

   Khavkin noted that there is already a feasibility study complete with lab tests and pilot runs to ensure an oil recovery factor for low-permeability and clay-bearing oil reservoirs at 0.4-0.45; he said these studies should be intensified in order to create commercial technology. He added that in-depth research is required to establish cost-effective technologies to extract oil from nano-collectors (pore sizes less than 100 nm) which hold billions of tons of the heavy hydrocarbons discovered in Russia. “We need to transform our perceptions about the size of the collectors rather than trying to adjust the collectors to our perceptions,” Khavkin says.

   Nanotech opens up an array of other possibilities for the oil industry, including solutions for the problem of water cut inherent at Russian oil fields. The impact of using foam nano-stabilization technology is manifest by the regulation of the injection profile and reducing the water cut by 10-20 percent.

   The new approach is likely to influence further development of production technologies, also contributing to forming new segments within the industry. Russian scientists have found that the technologies for controlling the life cycle of gas hydrate molecules are, in essence, nanotech. Nanotech applications can reduce the energy required to transfer the gas into hydrate form; this consequently opens up new prospects for the consumption of associated gas and low-pressure gas, as well as for trading natural gas hydrate (gas hydrate is cheaper to ship than LNG). Norwegian scientists have already created similar technologies for gas to gas hydrate conversion which ensure pipeless transportation of the product and its storage in over-ground storage facilities at normal pressure.

   Nanotech development promises benefits from both the direct application of new technologies and from sales. It is no mere coincidence that in recent years “a real competition has been unfolding between the United States, Japan, China, the EU and other countries participating in the race for nanotech supremacy,” Babkin says. In petrochemistry alone, analysts forecast global turnover of the catalytic industry (manufactured with nanostructures or nanotechnologies) will reach $100 billion within the next 10-15 years.

Memory-Enhanced Nanosystems for Drilling Operations

   The Azerbaijan State Oil and Gas Company (SOCAR) has also set the objective of entering the global nanotech market. While in Russia the state, business and science are trying to coordinate their efforts, SOCAR has already introduced commercial-scale nanotech and developed a Program for the Development of Nanotechnology from 2010 to 2015.

    “We have been closely engaged with these technologies for five years and now have experimental and practical results,” Professor Eldar Shakhbazov, Doctor of Engineering and adviser to the first vice-president of SOCAR said. Nanotechnology based on carrier-fluid with metal nano-particles has been implemented at over 100 wells operated by both downhole pumping and gas lift methods. Injecting the fluid into the formation results in the demulsification of the latter and separates the oil from the water creating favorable conditions for lifting the product through wells located on the formation. The fluid also improves the permeability of minerals near the wellbore and enhances the oil production rate.

   SOCAR developed the NANONEFT, NANOBITUM and NANO-OMM systems which, studies of their influence on drilling muds showed, have synergic properties and the “super-fine size” effect. For the first time in drilling, it was discovered that these nanosystems have mnemonic properties. Using the NANONEFT, NANOBITUM and NANO-OMM systems ensured higher speeds of mechanical drilling and provided energy saving of up to 30-35 percent.

   “Applying nanotech in the pipeline industry reduces the loping rate, lowering the pressure on certain units. Also, to some extent nanites have lubricating properties,”  Professor Shakhbazov says. According to him, the multiplier effect of using technologies reaches 1:25 in production and 1:10 in drilling.

Russian Scientists Monitor Latest Trends

   Many of the Russian-led research projects discussed at the conference are unique and innovative; the main challenge is implementing them, Shakhbazov says.

   And there are successful cases of cooperation between companies and Russian science. For example, Schlumberger commissioned research from the Oil and Gas Center at Lomonosov’s Moscow State University on developing “smart polymers”, which could be used in hydraulic fracturing to guide the movement of substances in wells and for membranes in modern fuel cells.

   Khavkin believes that Russian scientists have a sound base for developing nanotechnology for formation stimulation, anti-corrosion coatings, cutting point hardening and for hydrophobic process fluids with stabilization particles. The large number of Russian scientific projects forced the organizers of international SPE conference to invite NOR experts to the venue in Egypt where the world’s best nanotechnologists forecast next five, 10 and 20 years for the industry last summer. “Nanotechnology isn’t a new branch of the global economy, it is rather the means to modernize many other branches,” a representative of the U.S.-based analytical center Lux Research noted at the SPE conference. It is quite possible that nanotechnologies for reducing the weight of rigs, creating new catalysts for refining, reducing the costs of drilling by spraying nanites onto the drilling bit or using carbon nanotubes in drilling and for many other applications discussed at the conference will soon become a reality in Russia.

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