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Nanotechnology is the study of how atoms and molecules of a particular substance can be manipulated for them to produce the desired effect. The technology basically deals with development of materials or structures of devices that possess at least one dimension sized from 1-100 nanometers. This technology is very diverse and covers conventional devised in physics and, to an extreme end, completely new approach that is based upon molecular assembly. It also involves in development of materials that have dimension in the nanometer scale and the investigation of whether matter can be directly controlled on an atomic scale.
The origin of this technology is inspired by the discovery of fullerenes, a group of carbon atoms that have been best defined using the buckyball.
The figure above is the structure of a C60 Buckminster Fullerene that has been the subject of much research. The discovery of a scanning tunneling microscope helped give more insight into the structure of fullerenes that led to popularisation of nanatechnology in the 1980s. This popularity ios demonstrated in the publication of the book “Engine of Creation.”
However, the rapid advances in technology soon led to the refining of the basic structure of Nanotechnology to involve the manipulation at the molecular level. The basic concept of Nanotechnology is as such the use of modern technology to make complete and high performance products. The most convenient industry to make use of this technology is unarguably oil industry. The extraction and processing of oil and its products relies heavily on manipulation of carbon structures. Therefore, this technology is very helpful in the speeding up of processing procedure.
This paper is formulated address issues concerning:
- How did Nanotechnology find its way into the Industry?
- What is the response by most oil companies to the adoption of Nanotechnology?
- Does the use of nanotechnology improve the rate of production?
- What are the ethical issues involved in the use of Nanotechnology in the oil industry?
To help explain how the use of Nanotechnology has been developed in the oil industry and its impact on the production of oil and its products, this paper will mainly dwell on the situation in the Russian oil companies.
The process of oil extraction and processing is largely a molecular one. The use of Nanotechnology I this industry is therefore expected to be of great help. Due to the increasing competition, most oil companies are also expected to be receptive to this new technology to enhance their productions. Therefore, the thesis that will guide this study is that nanotechnology is widely accepted in the oil industry and has led to increased productions.
Development of Nanotechnologies in Russia
Russia possesses the scientific and human potential for the accelerated development of Nanoindustry. Despite noteworthy achievements in the area of nanotechnologies, however, there is a wide gap between the high level of basic research and the low level of Nanoindustry infrastructure development. Russian industry's low level of receptiveness to developments in the field of nanotechnologies is a substantial restraining factor.
Only with massive government support can industries be forced to make use of the results of research in the field of Nanotechnology. This is because for instance, the government of Russia has established policies in the Nanotechnology sphere are the Program for the Development of Nanoindustry in the Russian Federation up to 2015, other federal target programs, and regional, industry, and ministerial programs.
The basic infrastructure for Russia's Nanoindustry sector is being created in the form of a nationwide nanotechnology network. The activities of this Nanotechnology network are coordinated on the inter-industry level by federal executive agencies of the inter-sectoral level.
The aim of creating a national Nanotechnology network is to attain and maintain parity with the economically developed countries in the Nanotechnology sphere through inter-sectoral and inter-regional coordination; concentrating resources in priority areas of development; stimulating investment via mechanisms of public-private partnership; building an infrastructure for scientific, technical, and entrepreneurial activity; and creating an enabling environment for a fast track implementation of the results from intellectual efforts in the area of nanotechnologies.
An important step in implementing the government's policy in the nanotechnology sphere was the creation in 2007 - in accordance with Federal Law No. 139-F3 - of Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies (RUSNANO). In contrast to the federal target programs, the corporation is a co-investor in nanotechnology projects. The corporation is the main agency for the development of innovative processes in Nanoindustry, along with other institutions involved in the diversification of the Russian economy. The corporation is participating in the creation of a national Nanotechnology network. The corporation's partners in this effort are the Kurchatov Institute Russian Research Center, which handles the coordination of scientific efforts in the nanotechnology sphere; the Russian Academy of Sciences; and different scientific and educational institutions.
RUSNANO finances promising projects in the field of nanotechnologies, attaching priority to those that are close to entering the market. The corporation makes good use of the assets contributed by the Russian Federation (to the tune of 130 billion rubles), and a portion of its own profits. The corporation's strategy, developed for the period leading up to 2020, defines a volume of Nanoindustry production of 300 billion rubles annually as a result of implementing projects with its participation as the main indicator for achieving its goals by 2015.
Introduction of Nanotechnology in the Oil Industry
In Russia, the oil and gas industry traditionally holds a leading position in the application of new technologies, both in the area of geological exploration and hydrocarbon production and in the area of hydrocarbon refining and petrochemical production. It is the natural resources sector of the economy that could become Russia's leader in introducing high technologies to production.
Being one of the leaders of the domestic fuel and energy complex, LUKOIL, a leading Russian oil Company, has always focused on introducing innovative technologies that hold promise for use in the oil and gas industry. Since 2008, the Company has been watching developments in Nanotechnologies and selecting innovative new technologies for its own use. Studies of the latest developments of foreign and Russian companies are convincing proof of the considerable potential of Nanoindustry: the application of nanotechnologies is possible in virtually every sector of the oil and gas industry, from geological exploration and production to refining and sales.
Advantage of Nanotechnology over Conventional Technology in Oil Production
The introduction of Nanotechnology in the oil industry is however necessitated by the increased cost of production using the technologies currently available. This is because meeting the increased oil demands in the world would mean increased drilling. This would have overwhelming effects on the environment as demonstrated in the figure below.
On the other hand, developments in Nanoindustry have led to the production of new materials that are super hard and resistant to the wares and tears of prolonged service. These are new technology also provide effective catalysts, multifunctional coatings, Nanomodifiers, and additives that are essential for the oil companies. One such product is OxFrac that has effectively replaced the traditional proppants and gives better results.
The resilience of Nano- materials and hence their efficiency is large due to them being catalysts of production and being multifunctional in nature. They include;
- Nano-additives for oils used in pumping gear, in particular;
- wear-resistant Nano-coatings for the rapidly wearing parts of pumps and compressors;
- well pump valves with Nano-coatings;
- Protective coatings for equipment operating in corrosive media.
OxFrac in particular has demonstrated its ability to enhance both the rate and recovery of oil. This therefore means that there is reduced need of drilling. Fewer drilling of wells ultimately leads to less damage of ground surface. The efficiency of the product also meads that the cost of pumping is reduced since lower rate, simpler pumps are used. Other aspects of production like the cost of clean up and the use of less water also serves to reduce the fluid cost in the production and processing of oil.
The effectiveness of Nano-materials is considered to be due to their reduced size. Physicists have repeatedly demonstrated the particular aspects of a system were pronounced as the size of the system is reduced. A perfect example is the “Quantum size effect” where electronic properties of solids are changed by greatly reducing their sizes.
Due to the wide range of proposals to the application of Nanotechnology, a number of serious concerns have been raised concerning the possible impacts to the society. Authorities have suggested that new developments could result in, among other fields, the field of untraceable weapons of mass destruction thereby destabilizing the arms race ("Nanotechnology Basics").
Health providers on the other hand have remained skeptical to the technology, with suggestions of health applications attracting moral and ethical dilemmas. One area of such concern is the effect that industrial-scale manufacturing and use of Nano-materials would have on human health and the environment. Organizations like the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology have therefore advocated that nanotechnology should be regulated by governments for these reasons.
While Nanotechnology was developed based on the vision of molecular manufacturing, its application has broadened to include researches in chemistry and as well as molecular engineering.
It is this engineering aspect of Nanotechnology that is used in the oil industry to improve production both at the extraction level and at the refinery level. Although it has not been fully adopted by all oil producers, piloting has demonstrated the success of Nanotechnology in oil processing. Oil extraction involves drilling of the surface that has potential effect of degrading the ground and causing global catastrophes like drought and global warming. It is therefore essential that less destructive procedures are adopted to avoid this extensive damage. This alternative, like LUKOIL has discovered in Russia, lie with the adoption of Nanotechnology.