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Surfactant Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR)

One important technology challenge is to increase crude oil production to meet the increasing demand for energy worldwide. Even maintaining current oil production is difficult in the United States with its mature properties, but also is a vital economic as well as a national security issue. As shown below, of the total of 649 billion barrels in the United States, only 22 billion barrels remain that are recoverable easily by conventional means. On the other hand, new enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods offer the prospect of recovering as much as 377 billion barrels of oil from already existing properties; this is about twice the amount of cumulative crude oil produced to date.

Surfactant

Surfactant EOR represents one of the most promising advanced methods to recover a substantial proportion of this 377 billion barrel target. In this technology, an aqueous surfactant formulation is injected into a mature oil reservoir. Where this solution contacts the small blobs of oil trapped in the pores of the reservoir rock, it dramatically reduces the interfacial tension (IFT) and mobilizes this trapped oil. The Department of Energy has sponsored two projects at the California Institute of Technology to design new surfactant systems to make this process commercially attractive. A key to identifying superior, novel surfactants for this application has been using our unique technology to predict IFT performance. A third, related project sponsored by DOE is to employ advanced biotechnology methods to increase the production of bio-surfactants from selected strains of bacteria. Initially we seek to improve the efficiency of bio-production of EOR surfactants as a manufacturing process; later in the project we will implant this more efficient bio-process ability into bacteria already adapted to the subsurface oil field environment.

RELATED PROJECTS:

Project 1: Lower Cost Methods for Improved Oil Recovery via Surfactant Flooding
Sponsor: U. S. Department of Energy(DOE)
Co-sponsors: ChevronTexaco and Akzo Nobel

Project 2: Cost Effective Surfactant Formulations for Improved Oil Recovery in Carbonate Reservoir
Sponsor: U. S. Department of Energy(DOE)
Co-sponsors: ChevronTexaco and Akzo Nobel

Project 3: Bio-Engineering High Performance Microbial Strains for MEOR by Directed Protein Evolution Technology
Sponsor: U. S. Department of Energy(DOE)
Co-sponsors: ChevronTexaco