THE objective of this project, which was kicked off in September, 2008, is to build and field test a novel oil-in-water monitor based on miniature mass spectrometry technology.
Mass spectrometry is a well known analytical technique that is generally used to find the composition of a sample by generating a spectrum representing the masses of sample components.
However, in upstream oil&gas, real-time, continuous, on-site mass spectrometry is currently unavailable and batch analysis is hundreds of pounds per sample, with a one to four-week turnaround.
Poxon: “There are a number of different forms of mass spectrometry, and the one that is the subject of this project – membrane inlet mass spectrometry (MIMS) – is capable of rapidly detecting and quantifying trace organics such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene and trichloroethane) and dissolved gases in aqueous solutions at sub ppm (parts per million) levels. Application of MIMS in the field as an oil-in-water monitor is both feasible and desirable in view of the improved sensitivity compared with existing monitors. This technology has a number of application points, both upstream and downstream, like separators, injection pumps and/or dehydrators. It will allow trace levels of oil in water to be detected and quantified, thus maximising oil production/recovery and minimise loss/contamination.”
For many years, mass spectrometry was restricted to the laboratory, but the increasing trend towards miniaturisation in electronic instrumentation has resulted in most of the common forms of mass spectrometers becoming available in miniaturised and/or micro-engineered versions. This, in turn, has led to a number of field-portable instruments that are now finding application in harsh environments and conditions previously thought impossible for a mass spectrometer.
For example, Nasa’s Phoenix Mars lander was equipped with an on-board miniature magnetic sector mass spectrometer to perform analysis of the Martian atmosphere and to search for water. The technology has also been used for volcanic gas monitoring for earlier prediction of eruptions.
Poxon: “Dr Stephen Taylor, of Liverpool University, who had developed the world’s smallest mass spectrometer, first approached ITF with a proposal that was submitted under a scheme called Pioneer that was set up to give a route for early-stage, potentially radical technologies that might otherwise struggle to secure funding. This was a technology looking for an application and its potential for the oil&gas industry generated real excitement among our members. A full matrix of field trials will be carried out at Opus Plus, in Orkney. If successful, this project could lead to the first oilfield application of miniature mass spectrometry.”