Student wins first place in regional petroleum engineering paper contest

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A paper written by Evan Galimberti, a rising Penn State senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering, and a master’s degree in energy and mineral engineering through an integrated undergraduate-graduate (IUG) program, won first place in the Eastern North America regional Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) student paper contest, held April 22 at the Ohio State University. Galimberti will advance to the final, international round of the contest, which will be held Oct. 9-11 at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio.

Surfactant flooding during oil recovery

Galimberti’s paper, “Impact of Reservoir Mixing on Surfactant Slug Size Optimization,” focuses on using surfactant flooding to enhance oil recovery methods. Surfactants are compounds that lower the interfacial tension between two liquids, similar to how dish detergent reduces the tension between grease and water in order to wash the grease away from the dishes.

Surfactant flooding works by injecting a chemical solution through an oil well and into the oil reservoir deep within the Earth’s surface. The soap and surfactant generated through the injection mix with the oil and decrease the interfacial tension, allowing the oil to mobilize toward the recovery well.

One inhibiting factor with surfactant flooding, however, is the large chemical cost.

“When we use surfactants for oil recovery, we have to try to find the optimal amount that will recover the most oil while being the most cost efficient,” said Galimberti.

To find this amount, Galimberti used computer models to simulate different oil recovery scenarios, adjusting variables like the amount of surfactant that is injected, and the surface area between the surfactant and the oil during the recovery process.

“Ideally, the surfactant comes through the well and pushes the oil out like a snowplow,” he explained. “However, as surface area increases, so does the chance of the surfactant and the oil mixing through diffusion, which could potentially lead to less oil being recovered.”

Galimberti researched a way to find the optimal amount of surfactant to inject based on the amount of mixing taking place that would lower interfacial tension and produce the most oil in the most cost-effective way possible. Through his data, he concluded that there is a point after which surfactant hinders, rather than helps, the economics of the oil recovery process.

“Given the experiment’s results, it seems better to slightly overestimate the amount of surfactant needed than to miss the optimal point with too little,” he said. “This will help the recovery process to be the most economically feasible.”

Diligent preparation, hard work rewarded in first-place finish

Galimberti’s paper is the culmination of several months of research and perseverance. He worked under the guidance of Russell Johns, who holds the Victor and Anna Mae Beghini Fellowship in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering, and he collaborated with Liwei Li, graduate student in energy and mineral engineering, and Saeid Khorsandi, postdoctoral scholar in energy and mineral engineering.

“It was great to work toward this paper contest because it motivated me to be more productive with my research and to hone my presentation skills through my preparation,” said Galimberti. “I received a lot of helpful feedback and questions that prompted me to go further with this research, which will prepare me well for the international competition.”

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Last Updated July 03, 2017