Nanotechnology: an industry perspective

Audrey Leon

October 1, 2015

Audrey Leon spoke to Rustom Mody, Vice President and Chief Engineer, Baker Hughes Enterprise Technology, to learn more about the company’s research and development of nanotechnologies.

Inside the Baker Hughes nanotechnology lab, at the Center for Technology Innovation in Houston. Photos from Baker Hughes.

The uses for nanomaterials within oil and gas is endless from strengthening metals, and cements, to increasing energy storage and improving battery technologies.

According to the Interagency Working Group on Nanotechnology’s 1999 report listing potential benefits of nanotechnology for the chemical and energy industries, it wrote: “The use of nanoscale materials for energy generation and storage may allow for higher capacities, higher rates of charge and discharge, and far greater control over the absorption and charge transfer processes… Similarly, removal of H2S, H2O, CO, and/or CO2 from natural gas near well heads would enable more efficient transport of natural gas from the well head to the end user.”

But that was over 15 years ago. It’s safe to say that both research and the market for nanotechnology has advanced considerably since then. A new report by Research and Markets shows an industry with enormous growth prospects and expectations that the global nanotechnology industry will grow to US$75.8 billion by 2020.

With all that in mind, OE looked to industry leading service company Baker Hughes to see how the company has advanced their research and deployment of nanotechnologies within the oil and gas field.

Rustom Mody

Rustom Moody, Vice President and Chief Engineer – Enterprise Technology for Baker Hughes, oversees product and service research and development as well as engineering talent development across the company. He also heads industry and university collaboration for the company. Mody holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in mechanical engineering and a Master of Business Administration in finance, as well as 16 patents. He is an active member of SPE, IADC and AADE and serves on various sub-committees of all three organizations. He also serves on the Boards of Advisors for the University of Oklahoma Engineering Department and University of Oklahoma Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geologic Engineering, and Pumps & Pipes, a Houston research initiative that fosters collaboration and technology transfer among the energy and medical communities and NASA.

OE: Are you currently using nanotechnology with your products?

Mody: Yes we are using nano-engineered products quite successfully.

OE: What factors led you to research and test nanotechnologies?

SPECTRE, the industry’s first completely disintegrating frac plug, is made from CEM nano-engineered material developed and patented by Baker Hughes.

Mody: We work closely within the Pumps & Pipes community in Houston. Pumps & Pipes is a collaboration between the Methodist Research Institute (The Methodist Hospital) and the energy industry. In the last couple of years, NASA has also joined the community. Through our observation of what was being accomplished with nanotechnology in medicine, the potential for nanotechology development and application within the energy industry became quite obvious.

OE: Please tell us of a recent project where it was successfully deployed.

Mody: Since first discovering nanostructured materials that would disintegrate downhole, Baker Hughes materials scientists have developed three important technologies that significantly reduce time and cost in hydraulic fracturing operations.

We developed and patented a technology called controlled electrolytic metallic (CEM) with a combination of high strength and in-situ disintegration characteristics that, as far as anyone knows, did not previously exist in other metal composite materials. The first application of CEM material was in our IN-Tallic disintegrating frac balls for use with multistage fracturing systems. We then used CEM technology in the industry’s first intervention-less frac plug, SHADOW.

Last month at SPE ATCE, we introduced SPECTRE, the first frac plug that completely disintegrates downhole in the presence of wellbore fluids. The SPECTRE plug leaves no whole or partial plug components downhole—ensuring an unobstructed production ID for maximum flow area, reduced risk, and easy wellbore access. Now operators can increase completion efficiency and have the added benefit of a full-bore ID – without intervention.

The IN-Tallic frac ball, also made from CEM nano-engineered material, that illustrates how this material completely disintegrates in wellbore fluids.

In addition to our CEM technology, we are exploring the potential of nano-engineerd elastomers for high-temperature applications, nano-engineered lubricants for improved lubricity and heat transfer properties, and nano-engineered materials to increase wear resistance and enhance cutting properties.

OE: How does nanotechnology rank in terms of cost over other technologies?

Mody: It provides a unique ability to make dramatic improvements in material behavior properties, which improves both capex and opex for operators.

OE: How do you see this technology evolving for offshore use?

Mody: Because of their light weight and excellent conductivity, I see nano-carbon fiber cables being used to transmit electricity downhole. And, nano-engineered surfactants for enhanced oil recovery applications.