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U of Alberta researchers develop “Reservoir on a Chip” for more efficient oil reservoir engineering

University of Alberta (Canada) researchers have designed a microfluidic chip which represents the pore structure of a naturally occurring oil-bearing reservoir rock and enables performing traditional waterflooding experiments in this “reservoir-on-a-chip” (ROC). Oil exploration companies could use ROC technology to determine what concentration of water and chemicals they’ll need to use to maximize oil recovery.

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

The pore-network has been etched in a silicon substrate and bonded with a glass covering layer to make a complete microfluidic chip, which is termed as ‘Reservoir-on-a-chip’ (ROC)...Oil is kept as the resident phase in the ROC, and waterflooding is performed to displace the oil phase from the network. The flow visualization provides specific information about the presence of the trapped oil phase and the movement of the oil/water interface/meniscus in the network. The recovery curve is extracted based on the measured volume of oil at the outlet of the ROC.

We also provide the first indication that this oil-recovery trend realized at chip-level can be correlated to the flooding experiments related to actual reservoir cores. Hence, we have successfully demonstrated that the conceptualized ‘Reservoir-on-a-Chip’ has the features of a realistic pore-network and in principle is able to perform the necessary flooding experiments that are routinely done in reservoir engineering.

—Gunda et al.

Reservoir-on-a-chip. Click to enlarge.

The findings were published in the RSC journal Lab Chip.


  • Naga Siva Kumar Gunda, Bijoyendra Bera, Nikolaos K. Karadimitriou, Sushanta K. Mitra and S. Majid Hassanizadeh (2011) Reservoir-on-a-Chip (ROC): A new paradigm in reservoir engineering. Lab Chip, 11, 3785-3792 DOI: 10.1039/C1LC20556K



What will become of Alberta once their sand becomes worthless??

Henry Gibson

Alberta has had oil fields as long as it has had tar sands.

Many of the methods to enhance production of oil from underground sources are identical to those used for bitumen sands. The earth does provide more heat in the form of geothermal energy for deep oil fields.

The production of oil from tar sands is only possible because of the artificially high price of oil from wells caused entirely by speculators as the production costs of oil from wells is very limited compared to the world price.

It is not known how much CO2 is released in the production of oil from wells in the form of gasses including leaks and flaring of gasses and the bio-oxidation of spilled crude oil. There are also losses of CO2 in transportation.

There are many who complain about the possible high releases of CO2 from oil sand recovery who drive at high speeds and double the CO2 required to get to their destinations. Some also have larger highly cooled houses far beyond their actual needs including very large high horse-power vehicles. How do these people compare to the many who are forced by the high price of oil to burn a few pounds of charcoal to cook their meals whilst their forests are being replace by oil palm plantations for inefficient costly biofuels ..HG..

Calvin Brock

Even small changes in carbide chlorination temperature can affect the average pore size and pore-size distribution of resulting carbon, Skeleton says, with reproducible results.

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