More than 30 states have shale formations that harbor natural gas underground, according to the Energy Information Administration. But industry experts can’t agree on exactly how much fuel is inside. That’s because natural gas and other hydrocarbons lie inside difficult-to-measure pores in shale rocks, which have properties that are not yet understood.
“If you want to estimate the storage capacity of shale gas, you need to understand materials that store them,” said Yun Liu, an affiliated associate professor ofchemical engineeringat the University of Delaware and a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research.
Now, using neutron scattering, Liu and a team of researchers from UD, NIST and Aramco Services Company have developed a novel non-invasive method to measure the variation of surface properties deep inside porous materials.
This method can help natural gas experts to better understand shale samples by examining the compositional distribution on porous surfaces inside the shales that directly influences the storage and transport of hydrocarbons. This would eventually help them decide whether to invest time and resources to extract gas from the formation the samples came from. The findings of thisstudy, published Thursday, Feb. 22 in the journalNature Communications, could also be used to understand many other different types of porous materials using neutron scattering or X-ray scattering.
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