Studies on nitrile rubber degradation in zinc bromide completion fluid and its prevention by surface fluorination
Vega-Cantu, Yadira Itzel
Billups, W. Edward
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Poly(acrylonitrile-co-butadiene) or nitrile-butadiene rubber (NBR) is frequently used as an O-ring material in the oil extraction industry due to its excellent chemical properties and resistance to oil. However, degradation of NBR gaskets is known to occur during the well completion and oil extraction process where packers are exposed to completion fluids such as ZnBr2 brine. Under these conditions NBR exhibits accelerated chemical degradation resulting in embrittlement and cracking. Samples of NBR, poly(acrylonitrile) (PAN) and poly(butadiene) (PB) have been exposed to ZnBr2 based completion fluid, and analyzed by ATR and diffuse reflectance IR. Analysis shows the ZnBr2 based completion fluid promotes hydrolysis of the nitrile group to form amides and carboxylic groups. Analysis also shows that carbon-carbon double bonds in NBR are unaffected after short exposure to zinc bromide based completion fluid, but are quickly hydrolyzed in acidic bromide mixtures. Although fluoropolymers have excellent chemical resistance, their strength is less than nitrile rubber and replacing the usual gasket materials with fluoroelastomers is expensive. However, a fluoropolymer surface on a nitrile elastomer can provide the needed chemical resistance while retaining their strength. In this study, we have shown that this can be achieved by direct fluorination, a rather easy and inexpensive process. Samples of NBR O-rings have been fluorinated by exposure to F2 and F2/HF mixtures at various temperatures. Fluorination with F 2 produces the desired fluoropolymer layer; however, fluorination by F2/HF mixtures gave a smoother fluorinated layer at lower temperatures and shorter times. Fluorinated samples were exposed to ZnBr2 drilling fluid and solvents. Elemental analysis shows that the fluorinated layer eliminates ZnBr2 diffusion into the NBR polymeric matrix. It was also found that surface fluorination significantly retards the loss of mechanical properties such as elasticity, tensile strength, toughness and compression set of nitrile rubber when exposed to zinc bromide fluid. This surface fluorination can be applied to extend the useful life of O-rings and packers in the field during oil extraction. The extended life can save millions of dollars by limiting the downtime of the well.
Polymer chemistry; Engineering; Materials science