Atomic Resolution Imaging

By utilizing cutting-edge technology available at the COIFPM, researchers can gain an understanding of how individual atoms and molecules of rock and oil (or gas) interact with each other allowing in-depth study of many of the inexplicable phenomena encountered in the energy industry.

Understanding can be gleaned by visually observing atomic interactions with a transmission electron microscope (TEM). Although TEM instruments are commonly used to view rock surfaces for porosity quantification and mineral identification, they are rarely used to study rock-fluid interactions. Such a study requires a TEM outfitted with the unique ability to operate under conditions of varying temperatures and pressures.

Currently, one of only several ETEMs in the world is operating at the COIFPM. The ETEM not only allows for the observation rock-rock, fluid-rock, and fluid-fluid interactions but also allows for the direct elemental analysis of the compounds under study. It is equipped with a gas mixing unit, which can provide mixtures of up to four gases to the observation cell, along with an energy dispersive x-ray spectrometer (EDS) and an electron energy loss spectrometer (EELS) which allow for a better understanding of chemical compositions and how those compositions affect the observed interactions.

In all, this tool provides for the most dynamic observation of the structure, morphology, composition, and bonding state of minerals at Angstrom resolutions – experimental capabilities which have never before been used to fully quantify the atomic interactions that occur in a wide range of energy related research areas. By making these atomic-scale observations, many of the questions regarding commonly encountered issues in energy research, such as those surrounding wettability alteration, enhanced oil recovery, asphaltene precipitation, and confinement induced phase behavior, can be explored in greater depth.