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New Treatment Improves Elastomer Performance in Challenging Environments

Elastomers, commonly used in O-rings and other seals, take a lot of punishment in a downhole environment. Battelle has developed a new, proprietary post-production treatment method that significantly increases their performance. Building on this success, Battelle is poised to develop new inert materials to withstand High Pressure/High Temperature (HPHT) conditions. 

Current elastomers provide limited options when designing hardware for HPHT operations. The best performing HPHT oil field materials are perfluoroelastomers (FFKM) like Kalrez ™. They provide superior performance compared to fluoroelastomer copolymers (FKM) like Viton ™and Aflas™ (FEPM), but are much more costly—often 30 to 100 times more expensive.

Exposure to chemicals commonly used in oil & gas production can cause FKM elastomers to swell and soften. The high temperatures and extreme alkaline conditions in downhole environments degrade the material, causing the seals to fail over time. To counteract this, Battelle has developed proprietary post-production treatment methods for Viton® O-rings that reduce the effect of high-pH, high-temperature exposure.

Researchers tested the treated seals at high-pH levels (pH-14) and high temperatures (180F). Treatment reduced property degradation by 40% for tensile strength and 66% for stiffness compared to untreated Viton® O-rings.

Because the treatment is applied after production, it is an easy and highly scalable method for increasing the durability and resistance of existing elastomer seals. It is also very cost-effective; the treated O-rings offer increased performance for Viton ™ elastomers.

Battelle funded this initial research internally in order to meet an urgent need for the oil & gas industry. They are now actively seeking industry collaborators to further develop and optimize the technology in preparation for future commercialization.