PhD Opportunity: Oilfield Scale

HERIOT-WATT UNIVERSITY – Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering

FAST Research Group / Energi Simulation Chair


SUPERVISORS: Professor Ken Sorbie and Professor Eric Mackay


The flow of fluids through subsurface rocks and wells can be enhanced or hindered by chemical interactions.   For example, scale deposits – such as carbonates, sulphates and silicates – restrict flow by growing on metal surfaces (such as well bores) and in porous media (such as reservoir rocks).  The use of chemical scale inhibitors is widely used as a method to control scale formation.  Another example is where CO2 or chemicals – such as polymers or surfactants – are injected to deliberately enhance the flow of some fluids and/or retard or trap other fluids.  CO2 injection, as part of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), is a necessary technology to accelerate the Energy Transition.

The Energi Simulation Chair in CCUS and Reactive Flow Simulation, working with the Flow Assurance and Scale Team (FAST) in the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering at Heriot-Watt University, supports PhD research on topics where component flow and chemical reactions in porous media are important.  These include precipitation of mineral scales due to water production during oilfield and geothermal operations, salt deposition and dissolution of mineral cements during CO2 storage, and the use of CO2, polymers and/or surfactants to improve reservoir sweep efficiency.  FAST is a 20+ person strong team that conducts research that has been sponsored for over three decades by 20+ industrial companies; further details can be found at

Various laboratory and modelling PhD studentships are available to develop the understanding of mechanisms by which inorganic scales form, how inhibitors prevent scaling and are retained on rock surfaces, how polymers and surfactants interact with mobile fluids in reservoirs and how CO2 is used and stored in geological formations.

The successful applicants may be required to develop various skills from among the following list – scale inhibitor performance evaluation; core flooding; inhibitor/brine analysis (ICP, wet chemical); flow visualisation, recording and analysis; simulation of polymer, surfactant and/or CO2 injection and interactions with fluids in the porous medium.  Although desirable, these skills are not essential prerequisites.  Students will have the opportunity to present their results to funders and at international conferences, and they will be supported in writing journal publications.

For further details please contact Heather O’Hara at the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh EH14 4AS, email

Apply online at GeoEnergy Engineering – Heriot-Watt University (

The closing date for applications is 12 August 2022.  Applications made after this date may be considered if further funds become available or if candidates have other sources of funding.  Applicants must be available to start in September 2022.