The global energy crisis makes it more important than ever to
get as much oil as possible out of each reservoir. At KU, one strategy
now being used involves really small particles and a really large
ConocoPhillips, the nation’s third-largest integrated energy
company, recently announced a three-year collaborative nanotechnology
research program with KU. The program will focus on the development and
testing of new technologies for oilfield stimulation to enhance
recovery. ConocoPhillips will contribute $400,000 per year to the
The research program is based on patent-pending technology developed
by Jenn-Tai Liang, Paul Willhite and Cory Berkland, faculty in the
Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering.
Under the agreement, KU researchers will use nanotechnology to
generate polymer type products and will conduct initial screening and
testing. ConocoPhillips will provide additional evaluation and field
testing to determine the products’ practical application.
“Our goal is to develop a class of specialized oilfield chemicals
that will dramatically boost ConocoPhillips’ oil recovery efforts,”
Liang said. “The work will focus on synthesizing, screening and testing
specific ‘nano’ chemicals. Our highest priority now is improved polymer
Nanotechnology – engineering on the scale of atoms and molecules –
is commonly used in a number of industries, such as semiconductors.
“Its application in the oil and gas industry represents a major
prospect for substantial and sustained benefits,” according to a
statement from ConocoPhillips.
KU is viewed as an innovation leader in nanotechnology research, but
has also been examining and developing enhanced oil recovery since 1974
through the Tertiary Oil Recovery Project. These techniques use
injected fluids to stimulate hydrocarbon recovery. The inclusion of
nanoparticles may lead to more efficient and environmentally sensitive
“KU’s extensive experience in enhanced oil recovery and
nanotechnology provides an ideal foundation for our collaborative
research focused on developing promising new oilfield applications,”
said Stephen Brand, ConocoPhillips senior vice president, technology.
“ConocoPhillips is pleased to be working with KU to discover some of
the next generation of solutions to the world’s energy challenges.”
The nanotechnology being applied to the problems of oil production
is actually a spin-off of research conducted to control the release and
solubility of drugs, a research field where KU is a recognized leader.
For example, Berkland holds a joint appointment in the Department of
“KU has a terrific team of researchers working with ConocoPhillips,”
said Steve Warren, vice provost for research and graduate studies.
“Energy research in all its forms is a major area of strength for KU.
We’re pleased to be working with ConocoPhillips to foster innovation,
support additional research, and increase the productivity of an
important sector of the economy.”