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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-02-26 11:05:17
  • Article ID: 690126

For Energy Experts, New Method Is a Gas

Process could help quantify untapped natural gas reservoirs

  • Credit: University of Delaware

    Yun Liu (left) and Wei-Shan Chiang adjust a syringe pump used to control gas pressure.

More than 30 states have shale formations that harbor natural gas underground, according to the Energy Information Administration. But industry experts can't agree on exactly how much fuel is inside. That's because natural gas and other hydrocarbons lie inside nano-scale, difficult-to-measure pores in shale rocks, which have properties that are not yet understood.

"If you want to estimate the storage capacity of shale gas, you need to understand materials that store them," said Yun Liu, an affiliated associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Delaware and a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research.

Now, using neutron scattering, Liu and a team of researchers from UD, NIST and Aramco Services Company have developed a novel non-invasive method to measure the variation of surface properties deep inside porous materials.

This method can help natural gas experts to better understand shale samples by examining the compositional distribution on porous surfaces inside the shales that directly influences the storage and transport of hydrocarbons. This would eventually help them decide whether to invest time and resources to extract gas from the formation the samples came from. The findings of this study, published Thursday, Feb. 22 in the journal Nature Communications, could also be used to understand many other different types of porous materials using neutron scattering or X-ray scattering.

Investigating pores

It's not just the size of pores that matters, but the surface structure and surface chemistry, since natural gas interacts with the outer edges of each tiny pore in the rock. The properties of the pores also determine how gas will flow out of the formation.

To understand these pores, the research team started with samples of isolated shale kerogen, an organic matter that stores the majority of hydrocarbons such as natural gas in shales. To peer inside the kerogen, they used small-angle neutron scattering, shooting a beam of subatomic neutrons through a substance and collecting information on the neutrons' behavior to determine the properties of the pores. Neutron scattering is non-destructive, unlike electron microscopy, another common method used to investigate porous materials. 

Next the group measured the change of neutron scattering signals with gas sorption at different pressures. The change of neutron intensity reflects the compositional distribution on the surfaces inside a sample.

This new method can reveal new information that other methods do not, such as the surface heterogeneity. Put simply, it provides information that helps researchers better understand what they are working with. When added to other information collected from a site, it can aid decision-making.

"Most of the other techniques used in the petroleum field provide the 'average' values of sample parameters," said study author Wei-Shan Chiang, a postdoctoral researcher in chemical and biomolecular engineering at UD who does work onsite at NIST Center for Neutron Research and at Aramco Services Company. "Our method provides both 'average' and 'deviation' (the width of distribution) of the material properties."

This method should also work on many other materials, such as cement, and maybe even biological materials such as blood, said Liu. The team looks forward to applying their method to new systems.

The other leading author on the paper is Jin-Hong-Chen, petroleum engineering specialist at Aramco Services Company in Houston. Other authors include Daniel Georgi, former reservoir team leader at Aramco Services Company, and Taner Yildirim, computational neutron science team leader at the NIST Center for Neutron Research.

Both Chiang and Liu are also part of UD's Center for Neutron Science, which gives faculty, researchers and graduate students the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge neutron science through a cooperative agreement with the NIST Center for Neutron Research. Aramco Services Company is a member of nSoft, a consortium for the advancement of neutron-based measurements for industry, which is located at NIST.

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Shi Receives Air Force Young Investigator Research Program Award

Jian Shi, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). Shi will use the three-year, $450,000 grant to pursue fundamental research on nanoscale complex materials that could lead to the development of next-generation resilient and high-performance energy conversion and sensing technologies.

Kerstin Kleese van Dam Receives 32nd Town of Brookhaven Annual Women's Recognition Award for Science

The award recognizes the contributions Kleese van Dam--director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative since 2015--has made to scientific computing and data management over the past three decades.

Jefferson Lab Announces New Accelerator Science Leader

The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has announced that Andrei Seryi will become its new associate director for accelerator operations, research and development in June.

First Plasma for New Machine to Study Puzzling Process That Occurs Throughout the Universe

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Sun Receives Power Electronics Achievement Award

Jian Sun, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and director the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received the 2017 R. David Middlebrook Outstanding Achievement Award from the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS). He was recognized for "contributions to modeling and control of power electronic converters and systems."

FGC Plasma Solutions Wins Top NASA Innovation Award

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Sandia Researcher Jacqueline Chen Elected to National Academy of Engineering

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Jacqueline Chen, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Chen is among the 99 new members from around the globe in the 2018 class.Election to the National Academy of Engineering is the highest professional distinction for an engineer in the United States.

PNNL Helps Form International Energy Storage Organization

News Release DALIAN, China -- Energy storage allows power operators across the nation to balance electricity supply and demand instantaneously, affording ratepayers a more resilient power supply.Now the focus on energy storage is global. In January, energy storage experts at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory joined forces with their counterparts around the world to forge the International Coalition for Energy Storage and Innovation, or ICESI.

University Partnership to Help Nevada Scientists Commercialize Discovery

UNLV's Office of Technology Transfer and the Desert Research are partnering to help faculty and students leverage each other's talent and resources to transform inventionsĀ into new products and services.

DOE Seeks Industry Partners for HPC Research on Materials in Applied Energy Technologies

The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a funding opportunity totaling $3 million to support projects between U.S. industry and DOE national laboratories related to improving materials in severe or complex environments through the new High Performance Computing for Materials in Applied Energy Technologies (HPC4Mtls) Program.

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Engineering Yeast Tolerance to a Promising Biomass Deconstruction Solvent

Chemical genomic-guided engineering of gamma-valerolactone-tolerant yeast.

Saplings Survive Droughts via Storage

Certain species of trees retain stored water, limit root growth to survive three months without water.

Unlocking On-Package Memory's Effects on High-Performance Computing's Scientific Kernels

Intuitive visual analytical model better explains complex architectural scenarios and offers general design principles.

Data Dive: How Microbes Handle Poor Nutrition in Tropical Soil

High-performance computing reveals the relationship between DNA and phosphorous uptake.

The Secret Lives of Cells

Supercomputer simulations predict how E. coli adapts to environmental stresses.

It's Not Part of the Problem, but Part of the Solution

Americium(III) is selectively and efficiently separated from europium(III) by an extractant in an ionic liquid.

Buckyball Marries Graphene

Electronic and structure richness arise from the merger of semiconducting molecules of carbon buckyballs and 2-D graphene.

Atomic Movies Explain Why Perovskite Solar Cells Are More Efficient

Tracking atoms is crucial to improving the efficiency of next-generation perovskite solar cells.

Catalysts: High Performance Lies on the Edge

Iron may be more valuable than platinum. Sometimes.

Discovery of a New Microbe that Produces Methane in Oxygenated Soils

Global models may be underestimating net wetland methane emissions.


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