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Heavy oil comes with production challenges. Its high viscosity makes extraction difficult; its paraffin waxes and asphaltenes (high molecular weight compounds) foul pipes and its often high acidity can corrode equipment.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is developing a technology to help oil producers overcome some heavy crude oil production challenges. The lab has developed a piezoelectric technology that mounts on the outside of production pipe and focuses ultrasonic energy into the center of the oil stream within the pipe.
Using principles of visco-elastic heating, the ultrasound energy heats the oil at around 0.4°C per sec from the inside out. The heating keeps the oil above its cloud point and lowers its viscosity, so that it follows more readily. In contrast, the pipe remains relatively cool. According to PNNL Research Scientist Kayte Denslow, the more viscous the oil, the faster it heats.
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