January 2018, Vol. 245, No. 1

Features

Microfluidics Probe ‘Cholesterol’ of Oil Industry

It sounds cliché, but things do get worse before they get better when oil and gas lines are being cleared of contaminants, according to Rice University researchers. Until now, nobody knew exactly why. Asphaltene is a complex of hydrocarbon molecules found in crude oil. It is the source of valuable asphalt and can also be made into waterproofing and roofing materials, corrosion inhibitors and other products, but when it builds up in a pipeline, it’s trouble. Asphaltenes are often called the “cholesterol” of the oil industry since they are known to coagulate and slow or even stop the flow of oil and gas in reservoir rock. Rice engineer Sibani Lisa Biswal and her colleagues used their unique mi

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