Edmonton, Alberta – Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a method to help energy producers get the maximum amount of oil out of porous layers of sandstone and limestone by replicating the rock layers.

Mechanical engineering professor Sushanta Mitra led a research team that uses core samples from oil drilling sites to make 3D mathematical models of the porous rock formations that can trap huge quantities of valuable oil. 

“The process starts with a tiny chip of rock from a core sample where oil has become trapped,” Mitra said. “That slice of rock is scanned by a focused ion-beam-scanning electron microscopy machine, which produces a 3D copy of the porous rock.”

The replica is made of a thin layer of silicon and quartz at the University’s micro/nanofabrication facility. The researchers call it a “reservoir on a chip,” or ROC. The hugely expensive process of recovering oil in the field is recreated in the laboratory when researchers soak the ROC in oil and then force water into the chip under pressure, to see how much oil can be pushed through the microscopic channels and recovered.

“ROC replicas can be made from core samples from oil-trapping rock anywhere in the world,” Mitra said. “Oil exploration companies will be able to use ROC technology to determine what concentration of water and chemicals they’ll need to pump into layers of sandstone or limestone to maximize oil recovery.”

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