Shell International Exploration & Production B.V. and TU Delft have started a joint research project called The Recovery Factory, which aims to develop new ways of increasing the amount of oil and gas that can be extracted from subsurface reservoirs.
Staff from Shell and TU Delft, including eight new PhD students, will be involved in the joint research programme, which will initially run for six years.
The industry average for extracting oil is only around 35 per cent of the oil in place, with the remainder trapped in the rock. Yet an increase in the efficiency of global hydrocarbon recovery of just 1 per cent would expand conventional oil reserves by 88 billion barrels, enough to replace three years of world production at the current rate of 27 billion barrels per year.
The Recovery Factory programme aims to achieve this by combining new technology with traditional methods. The programme has two key components:
The application of measurement and control techniques (also known as Smart Fields technology), and the injection of chemicals, for example, polymers or CO2, to make oil more easily producible, in a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).
Over the past decade Shell and TU Delft have developed a leading position in Smart Fields technology, and the Recovery Factory programme will bring this to the next level by using fundamental understanding of the subsurface processes to achieve smart EOR. Promising techniques include the use of sniffing sensors to detect chemical components in wells, in combination with advanced computer models to control and optimise the process of subsurface oil and gas extraction.
Another example of relevant new technology is the combination of measurements from several data sources, including fibre optic sensors along the length of oil wells, permanent seismic sensors buried in the ground or resting at the bottom of the ocean, and satellite sensors that remotely measure minute deformations of the Earth’s surface. Combining these different pieces of information into a mathematical model, instead of using only one or two of the individual measurement methods, provides better insight into oil recovery processes, allowing them to be optimised.
In Shell, the expertise in Smart Fields and EOR is concentrated in the Hydrocarbon Recovery Technologies team that is behind this new programme. Jeroen Regtien, Shell Vice-President, Hydrocarbon Recovery Techniques, said, “The Recovery Factory project will combine the best of Shell’s expertise, with the strength of the Delft University to significantly advance our capability to enhance oil recovery through a combination of tools and techniques, some of which are new to the oil industry.”
Three faculties at TU Delft will contribute expertise to the programme: the Department of Geotechnology, the Delft Centre for Systems and Control, and the Delft Institute of Applied Mathematics.
Marco Waas, Dean of the Faculty Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering, and TU Delft account manager for Shell, said, “In this project both TU Delft and Shell bring in world-leading researchers in systems and control theory, mathematics, geology and EOR to significantly increase recovery from the world’s remaining oil and gas reservoirs.
“This type of advanced conventional energy exploitation forms an essential part of the TU Delft Energy Initiative aimed at a responsible transition to sustainable energy supply over the coming decades.”