Enhancing oil recovery with the help of custom-developed polymers is all about testing, tailoring, and monitoring results. By combining cutting-edge lab testing and expert knowledge built up from years of experience in the field, Pengpeng Qi, Research Scientist, R&D and Technology, navigates the complex challenges faced by oilfield operators when selecting and fine-tuning their chemistries. “We work with customers of all sizes from all over the world, and because no two reservoirs are the same, we need to gather as much information about each particular site as possible in order to develop the most effective solution.”
The polymers Penpeng helps to develop are injected along with water into oil reservoirs in order to maximize the amount of oil that can be drawn out of the rock formations. “Our starting point with every customer is always to find out their target viscosity and geological information, including the salinity of the brine and the temperature and average permeability of the reservoir. We also need to know what, if any, products they are already injecting,” Pengpeng explains.
It can take a few months for the polymers to flow in the reservoir, so we need to be sure the viscosity will last the distance and stand the heat.
Testing, testing, testing
Once the right product has been identified, Kemira’s application specialists work closely with our chemists to synthesize the new polymer. “This is where our world-class testing capabilities really come into their own,” Pengpeng highlights. “We’ll perform viscocity tests with brine from the customer’s reservoir to make sure the product is viscous enough to displace the oil from the rock. It can take a few months for the polymers to flow in the reservoir – which may lie a few hundred/thousand meters below the ground where temperatures can be above 100°C – so we need to be sure the viscosity will last the distance and stand the heat. After that we’ll perform injectivity tests to see how well the polymer moves through the pores in the rock.”
This is where Pengpeng’s “rock star” tag comes into play. “In the lab, we inject our polymer solutions into the rock samples – either taken directly from the customer site or purchased from a third party – to find out how well the product propagates in the formation,” Pengpeng explains. The final step is oil recovery testing, where Pengpeng and the team replicate exactly what the customer will do on site when applying the polymer, to determine how much additional oil can be recovered. Kemira also uses tools like advanced reservoir simulation models to predict recovery gains with a high degree of accuracy. “Using the results from lab testing we can generate models that give an extra level of assurance to customers in terms of the gains they can expect to make. This can be particularly important for smaller operators that want to be sure they are making a wise investment,” says Pengpeng. “To the untrained eye the gains might look small on paper, perhaps a few extra percentage points, but in the oil industry this can mean a massive boost in profitability.”
Our work doesn’t simply stop once the product is ready and shipped to the customer.
Building long-term relationships based on trust and transparency
Pengpeng is keen to point out that partnering with Kemira means customers get far more than just the right chemistries for their application. “It’s very much a team effort, where we work hand in glove with the customer to develop a product that ticks all their boxes. Our work doesn’t simply stop once the product is ready and shipped to the customer,” Pengpeng points out.
“Together with colleagues from the business and field services teams we’re constantly gathering feedback to help us fine-tune the product. When meeting with customers my job is to act as an interface between the business and the engineering side of things so that we can understand the customer’s requirements fully and address any potential challenges that might arise,” Pengpeng continues.
“After all the essential testing is done and the evaluation data looks good, the R&D team is there to make sure the product works well in smaller-scale production, before we scale up to full plant-level production. The team monitors every single batch to make sure it performs as it should, from day one to the end of production, and when we ship the product to the customer our technical team are there to support them in applying it and to monitor the production results for several months to ensure it’s working as promised.”