UAE's Digital Rock Physics Project takes a close look at how to improve oil flow

The Digital Rock Physics (DRP) Project, undertaken as part of a partnership between the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), the Petroleum Institute and a number of other organizations, hopes to change energy exploration by making the collection of raw materials much more efficient.

The unprecedented research and development initiative, which recently was named the Oil and Gas Year's 2016 'Partnership of the Year' award, is mapping carbonate geological reserves in hopes of getting much more precise models for simulating oil flows.

To do this, technologies in Masdar Institute's labs are capturing information about these rock structures at the nanoscale to really look at reservoir properties and the porous nature of materials.

“Most of the Gulf area oil and gas reserves are in complex carbonate rocks that feature pore-size distributions from nano-scale to the tens-of-microns scale.” Masdar Interim Dean of Faculty Mohamed Sassi told the Gulf News Journal recently. “The carbonate rock 3D images at high resolution down to the nanometer scale will give us a clear idea of the pore network connectivity between the nano-pores and micro-pores.”

Sassi added that strong computing models can take this information and help human operators understand how to move the oil from the smallest pores of a certain material, simulating multi-phase flow behavior.

"This field of research is still at an early stage and will improve reservoir simulators in the near future," Sassi said. “This is similar to computational fluid dynamics, which was mainly developed in the '80s and '90s, and now has basically replaced any experimental fluid dynamics.”

Part of the goal of DRP and similar projects is to improve the rate of oil recovery – the rate at which energy commodities are successfully captured from the wild. Experts estimate that approximately 70 percent of the Middle East's oil is in carbonate reservoirs where the DRP models will be helpful. Parties such as ADNOC have set a target of 70 percent oil recovery, which would require quite a bit of innovation.

“The industry is right now at a 30 percent to 35 percent recovery rate.” Sassi said. “Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques such as gas alternating water injections are being used to increase recovery.”

Other partners in the project are also excited about how the eventual data will improve recovery.

“Projects like these showcase how combined efforts can help solve some of the most demanding needs and help the country reach the next phase of growth and development," Marc Durandeau, a senior vice president at the Petroleum Institute, said. 

Organizations in this story

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology Abu Dhabi - UAE Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi

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