Interface Fluidics Inc.

2017 Winner: Outstanding Science And Technology Start-Up

Minimizing Risk Through Microfluidic Solutions

Running a field pilot for an oil reservoir is a risky endeavour.

Although the rewards can be great, a very simple field pilot it will cost a minimum of $10 million and the venture will put the reserve on the line. If the calculations and chemistry of the extraction fluids aren’t thoroughly tested in the specific reservoir environment, injecting these chemical compositions into the well can damage these valuable assets.

Recreating the physical environment

Interface Fluidics is providing a new option to the traditional method of how the oil and gas industry de-risks new technology. Through microfluidic devices, Interface recreates the downhole conditions of a well inside the lab to physically test how oil and chemistry samples will interact in the real well environment. Compared to traditional testing methods, this reservoir-on-a-chip technology allows oil and gas companies to test different products very rapidly and accurately with minimal expense. By recreating the very high temperatures and pressures present in the wells in the lab, Interface is effectively minimizing a crucial risk that new products pose to these multi-million, even billion dollar reservoirs.

Recently, Interface partnered with Stepan Oilfield Solutions to create a joint-test, which would validate both Stepan’s new oilfield chemical foaming agents as well as demonstrate the rigours of efficient testing and de-risking of Interfaces reservoir-on-a-chip technology.

Stepan partnered with Interface in order to test a new agent that would foam inside the well to increase oil sands extraction by delivering energy into the reservoir in a more efficient manner. The chemistries should work in theory, but they have not been piloted yet in Canada. Instead of risking the reservoir, Stepan needed to understand how the chemistries would react inside the well.

The partnership produced positive results for both Stepan and Interface Fluidics. Through the testing, Interface was able to demonstrate the accuracy of their reservoir visualization and the product interaction inside the well. The outcome of their partnership is being published in an academic conference paper for the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) this year.

Instead of choosing the traditional testing of core flooding, Stepan went with Interfaces microfluidic solution. In a core flood, a core sample is taken from the reservoir into the lab where the oil and rock is used to replicate the reservoir for analysis and testing of different products.

“The fastest you can run a core flood is six weeks,” says Kinnear. The core sample takes a long time to extract and prepare for testing, which can cost as much as $50,000. After sample preparation the average core flood at the cheapest will cost about $20,000 but can get up to as much as $120,000. This test will typically only provide a single data point.

In contrast, Interface Fluidics’ microfluidic solution was able to create an analogue of the reservoir in the lab where the client could run their tests without the sample preparation cost and then see the results in real-time. If the product behaved differently in the microfluidic chip than expected, causing damage, they would see exactly what was occurring in the downhole environment, and prevent it from happening in the customer’s reservoir.

For the same price of one or two core floods, Kinnear says in three months they were able to give the client about 20 different data points for different chemistries and concentrations. While core flooding is still valuable for the industry, Kinnear explains that they’re offering solutions that are ten times more cost and time efficient, increasing the chance of future success by making informed decisions at all stages in the implementation process.

Adding a little certainty

Through their technology, Interface Fluidics is able to reduce some of the risks associated with these costly projects.

“You’re still going to have to spend $10 million on that pilot,” says Kinnear, “but your chance of success is much higher because you’ve taken little pieces and little chunks of that out throughout the whole process. That’s what we want to do, just add a little certainty here and there and build a very strong case for doing it a certain way.”

With too much risk, innovation is stifled, adds Kinnear. In other industries, taking risks won’t jeopardize millions of dollars in assets, but this is the reality of the oil and gas industry. Kinnear says this “has held the industry back from doing their best work.”

Kinnear explains, “We want it to be easy, cheap and accurate to make decisions that are based on information instead of making wild speculations on incomplete data.” Adding certainty to the industry in order to drive innovation is a key goal for Interface Fluidics.

For Kinnear, an entrepreneurial environment really helped Interface Fluidics find success. When Kinnear and his business partner Tom de Haas first started talking about creating the company, Kinnear says Innovate Calgary was their number one supporter. Innovate Calgary helped guide the company forward and helped Kinnear and de Haas understand how and what they needed to do to realize their vision. They also had support from numerous other organizations from the A100, Alberta Innovates, IRAP, TEC Edmonton and many others.

Kinnear says Alberta is a great place to start a business and he strives to improve the oil and gas industry as best that he can.

“All the way through I know there are great people in the industry and I also know the industry is looking for any way they can to be the most innovative, environmentally friendly industry,” he says. “I see it as a personal responsibility of mine. Alberta is the best regulated and the best place to extract oil from the ground in the world, and that’s not as well represented as it could be. I want to be a positive part of that ecosystem and demonstrate to the world that we can do it right here in Alberta.”