Understanding the physical properties of fluids used in various applications within the oil and gas industry is important. Viscosity, in particular, has a major effect on fluid behavior. It determines how oil is extracted from a reservoir, how it is transported, how it is efficiently processed, and how it behaves as a product.
Offshore oil producers have long wished to have a magical remote control for the viscosity of crude oil. An ideal device like this will allow them to reduce the viscosity of crude oil for a few hours, while it is pumped through pipelines to onshore tanks, where it would be restored to its original thick and viscous conditions. Scientist R. Tao and X. Xu have finally cracked it!
Using a pulsating electric (for asphalt or mixed-base oil) or magnetic (for paraffin-base oil) field, they are able to reduce the viscosity of crude oil for several hours. This method does not affect the temperature of the oil, which is another way of controlling viscosity. Instead, the electric (or magnetic) field temporary aggregates asphaltene and paraffin particles. The increase in the size of the particle aggregates leads to a temporary reduction of viscosity. As a result, this method is ideal for transporting oil through deep water pipelines over several hours.