In a timely move, Shell International Exploration & Production B.V. and Delft University of Technology have started a joint research project called “The Recovery Factor.” The goal is to develop solutions and innovative technologies to increase recovery. Staff from Shell and Delft, including eight new Ph.D. students, will work on the project, initially scheduled to run for six years.

With more companies looking to squeeze remaining hydrocarbons out of existing fields, and with the industry-wide recovery factor hovering at about 35%, the program hopes to discover better ways to nudge that factor up. An increase of just 1% would result in 88 Bbbl, enough to replace three years of world production.

The project’s aims are to combine new technology with traditional methods. Key components include the application of measurement and control techniques, or Smart Fields, technology, and the injection of chemicals to make oil more easily producible.

The two organizations have developed a strong position in Smart Fields technology over the past few years, and The Recovery Factory hopes to bring this to the next level by using fundamental understanding of subsurface processes to achieve smart enhanced oil recovery. This might be accomplished through “sniffing sensors” to detect chemical components in wells and advanced computer models to control and optimize the process of hydrocarbon extraction. Combining measurements from several data sources such as fiber-optic sensors, permanent seismic sensors, and satellite sensors that remotely measure minute deformations of the Earth’s surface are other promising techniques.

The next step would be to combine these different pieces of information into a mathematical model instead of using only one or two of the individual methods. This will provide better insight into the recovery process and allow for improvement.

Shell will bring the expertise of its Hydrocarbon Recovery Technologies team to the program, and three different faculties from Delft – the Department of Geotechnology, the Delft Centre for Systems and Control, and the Delft Institute of Applied Mathematics – will contribute and participate.

Despite the fact that the industry is beginning to feel confident again in stable commodity prices, the geological challenges of finding new reserves still remain. Programs like this will be crucial to help produce more of the oil we’ve already found.