Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Functionalized graphene oxide plays part in next-generation oil-well drilling fluids

Graphene's star is rising as a material that could become essential to efficient, environmentally sound oil production. Rice University researchers are taking advantage of graphene's outstanding strength, light weight and solubility to enhance fluids used to drill oil wells.

The Rice University lab of chemist James Tour and scientists at M-I SWACO, a Texas-based supplier of drilling fluids and subsidiary of oil-services provider Schlumberger, have produced functionalized graphene oxide to alleviate the clogging of oil-producing pores in newly drilled wells.

The patented technique took a step closer to commercialization with the publication of new research this month in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces. Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon that won its discoverers a Nobel Prize last year.

Rice's relationship with M-I SWACO began more than two years ago when the company funded the lab's follow-up to research that produced the first graphene additives for drilling fluids known as muds. These fluids are pumped downhole as part of the process to keep drill bits clean and remove cuttings. With traditional clay-enhanced muds, differential pressure forms a layer on the wellbore called a filter cake, which both keeps the oil from flowing out and drilling fluids from invading the tiny, oil-producing pores.

When the drill bit is removed and drilling fluid displaced, the formation oil forces remnants of the filter cake out of the pores as the well begins to produce. But sometimes the clay won't budge, and the well's productivity is reduced.

The Tour Group discovered that microscopic, pliable flakes of graphene can form a thinner, lighter filter cake. When they encounter a pore, the flakes fold in upon themselves and look something like starfish sucked into a hole. But when well pressure is relieved, the flakes are pushed back out by the oil.

All that was known two years ago. Since then, Tour and a research team led by Dmitry Kosynkin, a former Rice postdoctoral associate and now a petroleum engineer at Saudi Aramco, have been fine-tuning the materials.

They found a few issues that needed to be dealt with. First, pristine graphene is hard to disperse in water, so it is unsuitable for water-based muds. Graphene oxide (GO) turned out to be much more soluble in fresh water, but tended to coagulate in saltwater, the basis for many muds.

The solution was to "esterify" GO flakes with alcohol. "It's a simple, one-step reaction," said Tour, Rice's T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science. "Graphene oxide functionalized with alcohol works much better because it doesn't precipitate in the presence of salts. There's nothing exotic about it."

In a series of standard American Petroleum Institute tests, the team found the best mix of functionalized GO to be a combination of large flakes and powdered GO for reinforcement. A mud with 2 percent functionalized GO formed a filter cake an average of 22 micrometers wide -- substantially smaller than the 278-micrometer cake formed by traditional muds. GO blocked pores many times smaller than the flakes' original diameter by folding.

Aside from making the filter cake much thinner, which would give a drill bit more room to turn, the Rice mud contained less than half as many suspended solids; this would also make drilling more efficient as well as more environmentally friendly. Tour and Andreas Lüttge, a Rice professor of Earth science and chemistry, reported last year that GO is reduced to graphite, the material found in pencil lead and a natural mineral, by common bacteria.

"The most exciting aspect is the ability to modify the GO nanoparticle with a variety of functionalities," said James Friedheim, corporate director of fluids research and development at M-I SWACO and a co-author of the research. "Therefore we can 'dial in' our application by picking the right organic chemistry that will suit the purpose. The trick is just choosing the right chemistry for the right purpose."

"There's still a lot to be worked out," Tour said. "We're looking at the rheological properties, the changes in viscosity under shear. In other words, we want to know how viscous this becomes as it goes through a drill head, because that also has implications for efficiency."

Muds may help graphene live up to its commercial promise, Tour said. "Everybody thinks of graphene in electronics or in composites, but this would be a use for large amounts of graphene, and it could happen soon," he said.

Friedheim agreed. "With the team we currently have assembled, Jim Tour's group and some development scientists at M-I SWACO, I am confident that we are close to both technical and commercial success."

Other authors of the paper are Rice graduate student Gabriel Ceriotti, former Rice research associates Kurt Wilson and Jay Lomeda, and M-I SWACO researchers Jason Scorsone and Arvind Patel.

Read the abstract at

An image is available for download at


Microscopic, star-shaped flakes of functionalized graphene oxide plug holes in pores in a test of the material's ability to serve as a filter cake in fluids used to drill oil wells. The single-atom-thick flakes of treated carbon are pliable but among the strongest materials known. (Credit Tour Group/Rice University)

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is known for its "unconventional wisdom." With 3,708 undergraduates and 2,374 graduate students, Rice's undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is less than 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 4 for "best value" among private universities by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. To read "What they're saying about Rice," go to

David Ruth | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Solid progress in carbon capture

27.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>