HomeScienceCase Western University’s PETRO Consortium Makes Significant Contributions to Improve Oil & Gas Production

Case Western University’s PETRO Consortium Makes Significant Contributions to Improve Oil & Gas Production

PETRO Case Consortium at Case Western University, led by Dr. Advincula, is working hard to ensure that the industry can catch up with the new technology and apply it to oil & gas production that improve productivity by smart drilling formulations, creating longer lasting concrete, coatings and apply other methods to increase yield in production.

The oil and gas industry is ripe for innovation. The cost of extracting oil can and should be reduced and research at Polymers for Energy and Transformative Research in Oil & Gas (PETRO) Case Consortium is uncovering new materials, chemicals and coatings that improves yield and reduces costs and with an eye towards diminishing the impact on our environment.


Dr. Rigoberto Advincula

“Our discovery driven group together with the PETRO Case Consortium at Case Western University investigates the area of molecular, macromolecular, and colloidal structure of polymers and nanomaterials capable of controlled-assembly to form smart coatings and dispersions with the aim of finding new technologies and materials that improve and replace established oil and gas technologies and materials,” states Dr. Dr. Rigoberto Advincula.
“Advancements in Atomic Force Microscopic methods at Park Systems has enabled astounding opportunities for this research at the nanoscale never seen before.”

For the last 10 years there has been an increase in interest and research for new materials useful for upstream, midstream, and downstream processes to effectively find function in demanding environments including directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. High temperature high pressure (HT/HP) and brine conditions pose a challenge for emulsification, demulsification, and viscosity of drilling fluids. Usually the “easy” oil or conventional oil has allowed technologies even dating back to the first oil well in Pennsylvania to become very profitable. But with high pressure high temperature (HPHT) conditions in most challenging wells or brine problems, many of the established technologies and materials do not suffice. Oil producers (majors, oil field services, operators, etc.) are constantly looking and investing in new technologies that may be used to meet this demand upstream, but the needs are also midstream, and downstream. Natural gas from hydraulic fracturing needs to be stored and transported and requires new materials for cryogenic storage. In the area of transport, corrosion, scaling and other fouling mechanism are important problems that can reduce the efficiencies and cause losses that can be prevented with the right materials and protocols.

These are just a few of the many ways that oil & gas manufacturing can benefit from new research and methods being developed at PETRO Case Consortium that increase production, while reducing cost and with an eye towards limiting the impact on the environment.


Oilfield Operation Improvements with Polymers

Oilfield and downhole operations (upstream) required many new materials and chemistries. Challenging formations and different properties evolving over the life of a well means that flow assurance and well stimulation is needed. Hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling has unlocked many resources. This has been made possible by the use of controlled completion methods and by the use of “smart proppants”. However, the use of water resources is enormous. All of this new technology and new innovations in chemical and material research indicates that there is a defined opportunity to use the advances in chemistry, materials, and nanoscience to make necessary industry process updates.

PETRO Case Consortium at Case Western University, led by Dr. Advincula, is working hard to ensure that the industry can catch up with the new technology and apply it to oil & gas production that improve productivity by smart drilling formulations, creating longer lasting concrete, coatings and apply other methods to increase yield in production.

Numerous opportunities are possible with the use of new polymer systems and nanomaterials like graphene in the oil and gas production. This has been enumerated for upstream, midstream, and downstream applications. The classification of polymer materials into thermosets, elastomers, and thermoplastics can easily categorize their use as coating and engineering materials. However as additives, their solubility and viscosity is of high importance. Nanomaterials include metals, inorganic oxides, semiconductors, organics, and carbon based materials will find increasing use in the oil and gas industry as their salient properties are reported in specific applications. Graphene in particular has some interesting applications based on its size, shape- aspect ratio, and conductivity. In the future, such convergence of the use of polymers and nanomaterials in the industry will be a matter of cost-effective ratio studies, where even a small amount of the latter can make a difference in high performance and efficiency of operation.

Among the many areas of investigation for the PETRO Group, the area of molecular, macromolecular, and supramolecular synthesis and structure of polymers and nanomaterials capable of controlled-assembly to form ultrathin films and dispersions is one of the significant. This research can directly improve the established oil and gas field formations.

There is a lot of interest on dendrimeric and hybrid colloidal materials. Ultrathin films and coatings are formed using techniques such as self-assembled monolayers (SAM), Langmuir-Blodgett-Kuhn (LBK), electrostatic layer-by-layer (ELBL) and surface initiated polymerization (SIP). Synthesis is involved wherever it applies to incorporating functional groups to provide amphiphilicity, ligand functionality, electrochemical activity, and in the preparation of pi-electron conjugated oligomers and polymers.


Evaluating Chemicals in Search of New Formulas and Coatings

The evaluation of chemicals and changing or altering the formulas can greatly improve production yields. Different chemicals used for the field include inhibitors for scaling, fouling, corrosion, asphaltene control, formation damage, differential pressures in multiphase environments which will be met by new synthesis methods including metathesis reactions, biobased feedstocks, new polymer surfactants, living polymers, and nanoparticles.

Other uses of new chemical technologies include tracers and reporters for geomapping and well connectivity, as well as different types of fluid loss agents that prevent formation damage or keep well integrity, and smart and stimuli-responsive nanoparticles that can be used for improving gelation. These also modify viscosity, for enhanced oil-recovery (EOR) as different types of surfactants and polymers are needed for improving viscosity and surface adsorption for flooding projects or used in foam and gas injection technologies.

In the area of new inhibitors, there is a need for highly effective and low percolation threshold systems which may have controlled properties. Smart proppants used for hydraulic fracturing includes low specific gravity and high crush strength. These proppants are important in keeping the factures open – well on to their production phase.

New High performance materials are being researched that can withstand HPHT conditions and also very high salt and corrosive brine conditions. On the other hand rapid gas decompression (RGD) is a main problem for elastomers used in high pressurization environments. This is being met by focused “non-metallics” programs utilizing nanocomposite materials and the use of new processing methods including 3-D printing and other additive manufacturing methods.


Analysis at Nanoscale Vastly Improved thru Innovations in AFM

In the area of analytical methods, it is very important to go beyond industry standards testing since the first phase of any new materials technology goes towards understanding and perhaps modifying the basics. For molecular and macromolecular methods, there is a need to have higher throughput testing and development strategies including combinatorial methods. For analytical methods it is important to characterize things at the nanoscale where events are usually bypassed at this scale since most of the common tools used in the industry are mainly macroscale.

Atomic Force microscopy is an important part of the research as it offers the most advanced and accurate data, never previously available in this type of research. The explosion of new innovations provided thru surface sensitive spectroscopy and microscopy is systematically utilized to probe materials properties and biological phenomena. The ongoing advances in AFM in the investigation of nanoparticles, nanostructured surfaces, and nanocomposite materials for an entire spectrum of chemical, material and bioapplications.

Techniques like Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) Spectroscopy, Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Quartz Crystal Microbalance (QCM), electrochemistry, polarized spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, X-ray reflection are used for analyzing such films. Interfacial phenomena issues are studied using surface sensitive measurement techniques coupled with preparation of modified ultra thin films and surfaces. Colloidal materials and dispersions are prepared and investigated eventually for thin film applications.

The technologies developed at PETRO Case Consortium – may very well be applied into many other industries including bioscientific and medical research, an area where keen interest is now focused on new ways to improve cell analysis and healthcare by using new methods in the preparation of modified surfaces for bio-adhesion, bio-sensing, anti-microbial properties, and drug delivery. Another is the oil & gas industry can also learn from nature.

Dr. Advincula’s group is a think tank of futurist scientists who continue to investigate new materials and processes applicable to innovation and scientific breakthroughs thru a wide array of industry related projects.

Members of his group are trained in many disciplines. This includes fluids, proppants, emulsions, coatings, plastics,nanocomposites, packaging, corrosion, pharmaceutics, sensors, biomedical devices, and electronics. They also investigate the design, synthesis, and characterization of polymers and nanostructured materials capable of controlled-assembly, tethering, and self-organization in ultrathin films including functional macromolecules, coordination polymerization, polymerization on surfaces, electropolymerization, and preparation of nanoparticles and hybrid materials.

To follow all the innovations being discovered thru Dr. Advincula’s pioneering group, go to


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