Investigation of Polymer Flooding for Enhanced Oil Recovery using Fluorescence Microscopy and Microfluidic Devices

  • Antonia Sugar

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Polymer flooding is one of the most used chemical methods for enhanced oil recovery(EOR). However, laboratory studies and field applications of polymer injections often encounter polymer-induced clogging due to polymer transport and entrapment, leading to permeability reduction and diminished recovery performance. In this work, we focus on understanding polymer flow behavior using microfluidics devices and fluorescence microscopy. Microfluidic devices were designed to mimic and replicate the pore-network structures of oil-bearing conventional reservoir rocks. We present various flow experiments to study polymer transport and the underlying mechanisms of polymer retention in porous media. We assess the polymer-induced clogging of partially hydrolyzed polyacrylamides - HPAMs, using tracers. Afterward, we use a commercially available fluorescent polymer with microfluidics and single-molecule microscopy to give insights into individual molecule dynamics. Furthermore, we perform numerical simulations to replicate and extend the experimental work. As these experiments were conducted using commercially fluorescent polymer of low molecular weight and due to limitations of tracers to track polymers, we extended this work to investigate the transport of HPAMs, which is the most used polymer for EOR, at molecule-scale. However, existent methods in the literature are not suitable for fluorescently labeling ultra-high molecule weight polymers. Therefore, we present a novel method for synthesis of dye-labeled polymers that successfully tagged the HPAMS. Finally, we assessed the conformation and flow dynamics of the fluorescently labeled HPAM molecules. The findings highlight a limitation in some polymer screening workflows in the industry that suggest selecting the candidate polymers based solely on their molecular size and the size distribution of the rock pore-throats. Moreover, we present, for the first time, direct visualization of the three main mechanisms underlying polymer retention in porous media. We bring the first molecular evidence of polymer pore-clogging and permeability reduction reversibility, which sheds light on the controversy in the literature. In addition, we propose a new method for fluorescent labeling water-soluble ultra-high molecular weight polyacrylamides-based polymers that preserves their viscosifying properties. The method can be extended to any polymers containing carboxyl groups or groups that can be functionalized into carboxyls, and therefore, the applicability covers any fields that employ polymers.
Date of AwardNov 2021
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorHussein Hoteit (Supervisor)


  • enhanced oil recovery
  • polymer flooding
  • microfluidics
  • fluorescence microscopy
  • single-molecule tracking

Cite this