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Could bubbles help increase Earth’s oil reserves?


New research which could help salvage huge amounts of the world’s oil that currently goes to waste is being carried out as a collaborative venture between Aston University in Birmingham, UK and Nottingham Trent University. Experts are looking at using Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) scanners and special micro-bubbles to find a way of increasing the oil quantity being extracted from porous rock, which is often less than 30%.

All of the world’s oil is found in porous rock beneath the ground and is usually obtained by drilling two holes – water is pumped into the first, which forces oil through the second. However, only a small amount of the oil is ever taken before the water starts to re-emerge. Once this happens the borehole is closed and the remaining 70% of oil can never be recovered.

The research team, led by Senior Lecturer in Physics, Dr Martin Bencsik (Nottingham Trent) in collaboration with Dr Yvonne Perrie (Senior Lecturer in Pharmaceutics; Aston University) has received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop a novel application for an MRI scanner, normally used to create an image of the inside of the human body.

MRI is known to be sensitive to water density so the team will be driving water containing micro-bubbles (known as liposomes) through small pieces of rock in order to make a three-dimensional image of its pressure. As the team builds up an idea of how the water pressure changes in this journey it is hoped they will be able to develop new ways to increase the oil quantity currently being extracted. The gas-filled liposomes (micro-bubble fluid) will be designed and made by Dr Yvonne Perrie at Aston University.

The research could also benefit the automotive industry as the team will look into whether they can improve the ability to drive resin into the porous woven fibreglass which makes up the majority of our vehicles. The fibreglass is shaped to whatever form is needed and is then reinforced with the resin making it stronger and less likely to fail.

Dr Bencsik said: “These research areas will make further use of MRI technology. Most people think of healthcare when they hear the words MRI scanner but we are certain that it can be used to achieve many other valuable uses, including this new research into oil extraction.’

Sally Hoban | alfa
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