A non-invasive method has been developed to help natural gas producers better understand shale samples and Schematic illustration of a heterogeneous porous material. Source: Nature CommunicationsSchematic illustration of a heterogeneous porous material. Source: Nature Communicationsinform decisions on whether to invest time and resources to extract gas from specific shale formations. The technique developed by researchers from the University of Delaware and the National Institute of Standards and Technology measures the variation of surface properties deep inside porous materials. Analysis of the compositional distribution on porous surfaces inside the shales that directly influence the storage and transport of hydrocarbons can improve estimates and recovery of gas resources.

The researchers tested samples of isolated shale kerogen, an organic matter that stores the majority of hydrocarbons such as natural gas in shales. To peer inside the kerogen, they applied small-angle neutron scattering, shooting a beam of subatomic neutrons through a substance and collecting information on the neutrons' behavior to determine the properties of the pores. The change of neutron scattering signals with gas sorption was also measured at different pressures. The change of neutron intensity reflects the compositional distribution on the surfaces inside a sample.

The approach can generate information on surface heterogeneity and other properties not readily assayed with other methods. It should also be applicable to other materials, such as cement, or biological materials such as blood.

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com