Interface Fluidics

Calgary startup repurposes healthcare analytical nano technology to measure oil properties at high temperature and pressure. At greatly reduced cost and increased speed over traditional HP/HT cells.

Interface Fluidics (IF), a spin-out from the University of Toronto, is developing a nano-scale device, a.k.a. a laboratory-on-a-chip, that is claimed to perform physical reservoir modeling faster and at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. The technique was originally developed by David Sinton (now Interface Fluidics’ CTO) who has repurposed microfluidic technology developed for healthcare to apply it to the problems faced by Albertan heavy oil producers.

Micro fluidics is used in medical devices such as pregnancy testers and, more controversially, by Theranos to analyze minute samples of blood or saliva.

For Alberta’s heavy oil producers this means testing chemical additives, solvents, surfactants and nano-particles. This can provide an understanding of pore-scale fluid mechanics and is used to de-risk new oil production methods and optimize existing reservoirs.

Interface Fluidics’ ‘chip’ is in fact a glass or silicon slide that is etched with hydrofluoric acid to produce textured microchannels into which microscopic quantities of the fluids under test can be placed at strategic locations. The slides are placed in a small cell where it is possible to visualize simulated flow through the ‘porous media’ at reservoir relevant temperatures and pressures. Critical characteristics such as emulsion size and distribution, surface wetting, diffusion, dispersion and condensation fronts can be obtained by direct measurement.

As Alberta’s heavy oil activity declines, Interface Fluidics is turning to the international arena with a broader offering, and has conventional PVT analysts in its sights.

Interface Fluidics’ Tom de Haas told Oil IT Journal, ‘We can put a nano liter of oil on the chip and see how it reacts at reservoir temperature and pressure to, say, a CO2 or steam flood or to study CO2 sequestration. It acts as a microscopic fluid cell for subsurface PVT analysis. We can perform the same analyses as a traditional HP/HT cell but with a billionth of the amount of fluid and much faster.’

A combination of microscopy, optical and thermal imaging is used in the analysis, sometimes along with fluorescence micrography.

de Haas concluded ‘the device costs around $1,000 as opposed to perhaps $200k for a traditional PVT setup. We can perform an entire fluid phase diagram, thousands of measurements, in one go!’

Computationally the system is straightforward, with grey scale gradients and minimal image processing involved. Extra computation is used to scale up the results. More from Interface Fluidics.

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