3-D Printing as a Novel Tool for Rock Physics Investigations

Tuesday, 25 July 2017: 3:00 PM
Paul Brest West (Munger Conference Center)
Dulcie Aileen Head, Stanford University, Stanford Rock Physics Laboratory (SRPL), Geophysics Department, Stanford, CA, United States and Tiziana Vanorio, Stanford University, Geophysics Department, Stanford, CA, United States
Rocks are naturally heterogeneous; two rock samples with identical bulk properties can vary widely in microstructure. Understanding how the microstructure and bulk properties of rocks then evolve during experiments and computations simulating alteration is inherently a multiscale problem. In the lab we can control experimental conditions surrounding a rock such as pressure, temperature, and fluid content, but we cannot control the rock itself. Using digital rock physics we can precisely digitally quantify properties of the microstructure and pore networks by way of CT scan and other digitization methods, but we cannot confirm digitally observed behaviors without physical benchmarking. Our ability to explain complex evolutionary trends depends on our ability to connect changes observed in different properties from pore to core to field scale.

3D printing presents a unique opportunity to build a physical link between those scales and techniques. We demonstrated the feasibility of using 3D printing as a novel technique to physically measure digital changes to a pore network using two different 3D printers. We used 3D printing to access multiple scales digitally and experimentally, to test hypotheses about how changes in rock microstructure affect bulk transport properties, and to connect lab measurements to quantities that are traditionally impossible to physically measure such as time-lapse changes in surface area and tortuosity.

While 3D printing utility is currently limited by resolution and material, the technology continues to advance. In addition to resolution improvements, 3D printing materials and our ability to manipulate and dope the current materials are also rapidly diversifying. Some printing companies are starting to include more geologically relevant materials; these new materials and manipulations of the current materials could enable tests beyond the transport properties of the void space of rocks into elastic properties, wettability, and more.