The nanoreporter is based on nanometer-sized carbon material developed by a consortium of
Limited exposure to hydrogen sulfide causes sore throats, shortness of breath and dizziness, according to the researchers. The human nose quickly becomes desensitized to hydrogen sulfide, leading to an inability to detect higher concentrations. That can be fatal, they said.
On the flip side, hydrogen sulfide is also a biologically important signaling molecule in processes that include pain and inflammation. Tour said chemists have synthesized fluorescent probes to detect it in the body. The
Crude oil and natural gas inherently contain hydrogen sulfide, which gives off a "rotten egg" smell. Even a 1 percent trace of sulfur turns oil into what's known as "sour crude," which is toxic and corrodes pipelines and transportation vessels, Tour said. The extra steps required to turn the sour into "sweet" crude are costly.
"So it's important to know the content of what you're pumping out of the ground, and the earlier the better," Tour said.
Now the same team, joined by chemist
When exposed to hydrogen sulfide, the nanoparticles' fluorescent properties immediately change. When pumped out of a production well, the particles can be analyzed with a spectrometer to determine the level of contamination.
"This paper is a big step because we're making our nanoreporters detect something that's not oil," Wong said, suggesting the possibility that nanoparticles may someday be able to capture sulfur compounds before they can be pumped to the surface. "Even if that's not cost-effective, just having information about the sulfur content may be enough to tell a company, 'Let's cap this well and move on to a cleaner site.'"
Modifying the particles with common polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) was the key to making the nanoreporters stable in temperatures as high as 100 degrees Celsius (212 ° Fahrenheit). Testing in beds of sandstone or with actual Kuwaiti dolomite, to mimic oilfield environments, helped the team perfect the size and formula for nanoreporters that are most likely to survive a trip through the depths and return with data.
"We found the longer the PVA polymer chains, the more stable the nanoparticles were in the high temperatures they're subjected to," said
"The method of detection is so sensitive that large amounts of nanoreporters need not be pumped downhole," Tour said. "This is enormously important for workers in the field to know for aspects of safety, lifetime of equipment and value of the afforded oil."
Keywords for this news article include: Gases, Energy, Elements, Chemistry, Oil & Gas, Chalcogens, Natural Gas, Nanoparticle, Nanotechnology,
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