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Researchers Develop Microfluidic Chip for Bitumen-Gas Interaction Analysis

A research group from the University of Toronto has developed a method, wherein a microfluidic chip is used for examining the bitumen behavior in reservoirs. The time and expenses for analysis of bitumen-gas interaction in bitumen and heavy oil reservoirs will be minimized through this method.

The research team analyzed the behavior of highly pressurized CO2 on bitumen using the chips. Through this latest method, the measurement of gas diffusion in heavy oils will become easier for fossil energy industries.

Heavy oils like bitumen cannot be extracted with ease due to their thickness and poor flowing characteristics. Usage of CO2-rich gas injections is considered as one of the vital methods for extracting heavy oils. These injections liquefy bitumen and make extraction easier.

A Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering of the University of Toronto, Dr. David Sinton and Dr. Hossein Fadaei, a postdoctoral fellow used a tiny microchip made up of glass to simulate a pore into the reservoir of rock. The width of the channels in the pore is 50 µ.

First, CO2 is added at low pressure in the device. This is followed by injecting a small quantity of the bitumen sample to the chip’s centre. Finally, from both ends of the chip, CO2 with high pressure is injected. This caused a bulging in the oil which can be measured over time.

Sinton said that only a nanolitre quantity of sample has been used and the method can be completed by 10 min. Several tests can be done simultaneously using this method within a minimum time. Hence, the method is both affordable and simple.

The process will be useful for oil and gas companies as well as to researchers. Since the sample size is smaller, even unsafe solvents can be used.

The study was funded partly by Carbon Management Canada.

The report has been published in the journal, Energy & Fuels.



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