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Scientists create flexible cement to fix tiny gaps in leaky gas wells

Leaky gas wells are a major problem, allowing methane to freely enter the atmosphere and contribute to global heating. Fortunately, we have a new solution in the form of a flexible cement that could be applied to fine gaps within deteriorating gas well pipes.

The flexible cement was developed by engineers at Penn State University who were trying to come up with a solution for smaller cracks in gas wells. Large gas leaks are often detected and fixed promptly, but tiny ones can actually be more difficult and often go unnoticed.

With the new cement fixture, it is now possible to pump cement into very tiny spaces in order to prevent methane from escaping the gas well.

“In construction, you may just mix cement and pour it, but to seal these wells you are cementing an area that has the thickness of less than a millimeter, or that of a piece of tape,” said Arash Dahi Taleghani, associate professor of petroleum engineering at Penn State. “Being able to better pump cement through these very narrow spaces that methane molecules can escape from is the beauty of this work.”

To produce flexible cement, the researchers started with sheets of graphite that are almost two-dimensional. These were treated with chemicals that altered the nanomaterial’s surface properties so it is able to dissolve water, rather than repel it. After that, the graphite is fed into a cement slurry, resulting in an effective, flexible cement material.

In tests so far, researchers have found it does wonders in sealing up damaged wells. The researchers also say their new cement could be applied in carbon capture applications, although they didn’t indicate how exactly it would be applied.

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