Improving the efficiency of oil recovery

University of Cambridge spin-out Silicon MicroGravity (SMG) has developed a novel sensor technology used by oil companies to enhance oil recovery. SMG’s sensors, developed in partnership with BP, are sensitive enough to measure one billionth the level of Earth’s gravity and are small and robust enough to be sent deep into boreholes to distinguish oil from water.

Once the position of water is established and tracked, reservoir engineers can mitigate the potentially damaging results of water reaching a production well. SMG estimates that the technology could improve yields on conventional reservoirs by up to 2 percent, representing significant increases in production and revenue.

A team of Cambridge scientists, led by Dr Ashwin Seshia of the University’s Department of Engineering, has been working closely with BP to develop the sensors. Design work began in 2010 and has resulted in several generations of prototypes providing experimental validation of the underlying device approach. A successful test of the technology was conducted in 2012 prompting BP to fund a follow-on project to address further optimisation and pursue large-scale manufacture of the sensors.

The SMG devices advance the frontiers of gravity sensor technology building upon several years of University research and innovation.

Dr Ashwin Seshia

SMG was formed in 2014 to accelerate the development of the product and develop a service that can capture and analyse data on behalf of oil companies. The first field trial in a production well is scheduled for 2017.

In February 2016, Silicon MicroGravity announced initial funding of $3 million from Imperial Innovations Group plc (AIM: IVO, ‘Innovations’) and Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, together with grant funding from the UK government. Innovations led the funding round alongside Cambridge Enterprise, which also invested and licensed the technology to SMG. SMG is also being supported through the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Stephenson Fund, a private investor, InnovateUK and NERC, which have awarded a substantial grant.

SMG’s advisory board includes Kevin Dodds, General Manager of ANLEC in Australia, and Professor Roger Howe from Stanford University.

Dr Ashwin Seshia, co-founder of Silicon Microgravity, said: “The SMG devices advance the frontiers of gravity sensor technology building upon several years of University research and innovation. SMG brings together a leading international team of experts to address the next phase of technology translation and we are looking forward to working collaboratively with our partners to deploy these tools widely.”

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