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Title:
METHOD OF FORMING A FLEXIBLE CARBON COMPOSITE SELF-LUBRICATING SEAL
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/085596
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A method of forming a flexible carbon composite self-lubricating seal includes compressing a carbon composite mixture into a mold forming a flexible carbon composite self-lubricating annular seal.

Inventors:
ZHAO, Lei (2929 Allen Parkway, Suite 2100Houston, TX, 77019-2118, US)
XU, Zhiyue (2929 Allen Parkway, Suite 2100Houston, TX, 77019-2118, US)
Application Number:
US2015/056886
Publication Date:
June 02, 2016
Filing Date:
October 22, 2015
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
BAKER HUGHES INCORPORATED (P.O. Box 4740, Houston, Texas, 77210-4740, US)
International Classes:
F16J15/16; B30B15/02
Foreign References:
US4205858A1980-06-03
US3904405A1975-09-09
US2462067A1949-02-22
US20040026085A12004-02-12
US6789634B12004-09-14
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS:

1. A method (280) of forming a flexible carbon composite self- lubricating seal (228) comprising:

compressing a carbon composite mixture (302) into a mold (320) forming a flexible carbon composite self- lubricating annular seal (228).

2. The method (280) of claim 1, further comprising: heating the carbon composite mixture (302) in the mold (320) to a selected temperature.

3. The method (280) of claim 2, wherein heating the carbon composite mixture (302) includes passing an electrical current through the carbon composite mixture (302).

4. The method (280) of claim 2, wherein heating the carbon composite mixture (302) includes melting metal binders in the carbon composite mixture (302) forming a metal melt.

5. The method (280) of claim 4, further comprising: driving the metal melt into gaps between graphite basal planes in the carbon composite mixture (302) forming an interlocked structure.

6. The method (280) of claim 2, wherein heating the carbon composite mixture (302) includes inductively heating the carbon composite mixture (302).

7. The method (280) of claim 1, further comprising: forming the carbon composite mixture (302) includes mixing expanded graphite with metal binders.

8. The method (280) of claim 6, wherein forming the carbon composite mixture (302) includes grinding the carbon composite mixture (302) into a powder.

9. The method (280) of claim 1, further comprising: removing the flexible carbon composite self-lubricating annular seal (228) from the mold (320).

10. The method (280) of claim 1, further comprising: integrating a biasing member (390,400) into the flexible carbon composite self- lubricating annular seal (228).

11. The method (280) of claim 10, wherein integrating the biasing member (390,400) includes positioning a coil spring (366) in the flexible carbon composite self- lubricating annular seal (228).

12. The method (280) of claim 10, wherein integrating the biasing member (390,400) includes encapsulating the biasing member (390,400) in the flexible carbon composite self-lubricating annular seal (228).

14. The method (280) of claim 1, further comprising: mounting the flexible carbon composite self-lubricating annular seal (228) to a downhole tubular (224).

15. The method (280) of claim 13, further comprising: inhibiting flow at the flexible carbon composite self-lubricating annular seal (228) on the downhole tubular (224).

16. The method (280) of claim 1, further comprising: machining the flexible carbon composite self-lubricating annular seal (228) to establish a selected seal shape.

Description:
METHOD OF FORMING A FLEXIBLE CARBON COMPOSITE SELF-LUBRICATING

SEAL

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims the benefit of U.S. Application No. 14/553472, filed on November 25, 2014, which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

[0002] Seals are widely used in resource exploration, extraction, and CO2

sequestration systems. Seals are employed both uphole and downhole. Dynamic seals provide a sealing interface between moving components and stationary components.

Typically, seals are formed from plastics and elastomers. The use of plastics and elastomers both uphole and downhole present various challenges. Plastics and elastomers are prone to wear caused by high temperature, high pressure and corrosive environments such as found in hydrocarbon recovery. Accordingly, seals formed from plastics and elastomers may experience a limited service life or are restricted from certain operating environments. For example, many elastomers begin to decompose at temperatures approaching 600 °F (315.5 °C).

[0003] Graphite is an allotrope of carbon and has a layered, planar structure. In each layer, the carbon atoms are arranged in hexagonal arrays or networks through covalent bonds. Different carbon layers however are held together only by weak van der Waals forces.

[0004] Graphite has been used in a variety of applications including electronics, atomic energy, hot metal processing, coatings, aerospace, and the like due to its excellent thermal and electrical conductivities, lightness, low friction, and high heat and corrosion resistances. However, conventional graphite is not elastic and has low strength, which may limit its further applications such as forming seals employed in a downhole environment. The industry would be receptive to improvements in seal technology including seals formed from a material exhibiting enhanced flexibility, chemical stability, corrosive resistance, as well as high temperature and high pressure resistance properties. SUMMARY

[0005] A method of forming a flexible carbon composite self-lubricating seal includes compressing a carbon composite mixture into a mold forming a flexible carbon composite self-lubricating annular seal.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0006] Referring now to the drawings wherein like elements are numbered alike in the several Figures:

[0007] FIG. 1 is a scanning electron microscopic ("SEM") image of a composition containing expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder blended at room temperature and atmospheric pressure;

[0008] FIG. 2 is a SEM image of a carbon composite formed from expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder under high pressure and high temperature conditions according to one embodiment of the disclosure;

[0009] FIG. 3 is a SEM image of carbon microstructures according to another embodiment of the disclosure;

[0010] FIG. 4 is a schematic illustration of a carbon composite according to an embodiment of the disclosure;

[0011] FIG. 5 shows stress-strain curves of (A) natural graphite; (B) expanded graphite; (C) a mixture of expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder, where the sample is compacted at room temperature and high pressure; (D) a carbon composite according to one embodiment of the disclosure compacted from a mixture of expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder at a high temperature and a low pressure (also referred to as "soft composite"); and (E) a carbon composite according to another

embodiment of the disclosure formed from expanded graphite and a micro- and nano-sized binder under high pressure and high temperature conditions (also referred to as "hard composite");

[0012] FIG. 6 shows loop test results of a carbon composite at different loadings;

[0013] FIG. 7 shows hysteresis results of a carbon composite tested at room temperature and 500°F respectively;

[0014] FIG. 8 compares a carbon composite before and after exposing to air at 500°C for 25 hours; [0015] FIG. 9 (A) is a photo of a carbon composite after a thermal shock; FIG. 9 (B) illustrates the condition for the thermal shock;

[0016] FIG. 10 compares a carbon composite sample (A) before and (B) after exposing to tap water for 20 hours at 200°F, or (C) after exposing to tap water for 3 days at 200°F;

[0017] FIG. 11 compares a carbon composite sample (A) before and (B) after exposing to 15% HCl solution with inhibitor at 200°F for 20 hours, or (C) after exposing to 15% HCl solution at 200°F for 3 days;

[0018] FIG. 12 shows the sealing force relaxation test results of a carbon composite at

600°F;

[0019] FIG. 13 depicts a subsurface exploration system including a tubular supporting a self-energizing flexible self- lubricating carbon composite seal, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment;

[0020] FIG. 14 depicts a flow diagram illustrating a method of forming a flexible carbon composite self- lubricating annular seal;

[0021] .FIG. 15 depicts a carbon composite mixture introduced into a mold;

[0022] FIG. 16 depicts the carbon composite mixture being compressed in the mold;

[0023] FIG. 17 depicts the carbon composite mixture compressed in the mold being heated;

[0024] FIG. 18 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal removed from the mold;

[0025] FIG. 19 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal having an integrated biasing member, in accordance with an aspect of an exemplary embodiment;

[0026] FIG. 20 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal formed around multiple biasing members, in accordance with another aspect of an exemplary embodiment;

[0027] FIG. 21 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal having a generally circular cross-section, in accordance with yet another aspect of an exemplary embodiment;

[0028] FIG. 22 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal having a generally rectangular cross-section, in accordance with still yet another aspect of an exemplary embodiment;

[0029] FIG. 23 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal having a circular cross-section, in accordance with yet another aspect of an exemplary embodiment;

[0030] FIG. 24 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal having a X-shaped cross-section, in accordance with yet still another aspect of an exemplary embodiment; and [0031] FIG. 25 depicts a graph comparing the flexible carbon composite, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment with other materials.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0032] The inventors hereof have found that carbon composites formed from graphite and micro- or nano-sized binders at high temperatures have improved balanced properties as compared to graphite alone, a composition formed from the same graphite but different binders, or a mixture of the same graphite and the same binder blended at room temperature under atmospheric pressure or high pressures. The new carbon composites have excellent elasticity. In addition, the carbon composites have excellent mechanical strength, heat resistance, and chemical resistance at high temperatures. In a further advantageous feature, the composites keep various superior properties of the graphite such as heat conductivity, electrical conductivity, lubricity, and the alike.

[0033] Without wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that the improvement in mechanical strength is provided by a binding phase disposed between carbon microstructures. There are either no forces or only weak Van der Waals forces exist between the carbon microstructures thus the graphite bulk materials have weak mechanical strength. At high temperatures, the micro- and nano-sized binder liquefies and is dispersed evenly among carbon microstructures. Upon cooling, the binder solidifies and forms a binding phase binding the carbon nano structures together through mechanical interlocking.

[0034] Further without wishing to be bound by theory, for the composites having both improved mechanical strength and improved elasticity, it is believed that the carbon microstructures themselves are laminar structures having spaces between the stacked layers. The binder only selectively locks the microstructures at their boundaries without penetrating the microstructures. Thus the unbounded layers within the microstructures provide elasticity and the binding phase disposed between the carbon microstructures provides mechanical strength.

[0035] The carbon microstructures are microscopic structures of graphite formed after compressing graphite into highly condensed state. They comprise graphite basal planes stacked together along the compression direction. As used herein, carbon basal planes refer to substantially flat, parallel sheets or layers of carbon atoms, where each sheet or layer has a single atom thickness. The graphite basal planes are also referred to as carbon layers. The carbon microstructures are generally flat and thin. They can have different shapes and can also be referred to as micro-flakes, micro-discs and the like. In an embodiment, the carbon micro structures are substantially parallel to each other.

[0036] There are two types of voids in the carbon composites - voids or interstitial spaces between carbon micro structures and voids within each individual carbon

micro structures. The interstitial spaces between the carbon micro structures have a size of about 0.1 to about 100 microns, specifically about 1 to about 20 microns whereas the voids within the carbon micro structures are much smaller and are generally between about 20 nanometers to about 1 micron, specifically about 200 nanometers to about 1 micron. The shape of the voids or interstitial spaces is not particularly limited. As used herein, the size of the voids or interstitial spaces refers to the largest dimension of the voids or interstitial spaces and can be determined by high resolution electron or atomic force microscope technology.

[0037] The interstitial spaces between the carbon micro structures are filled with a micro- or nano-sized binder. For example, a binder can occupy about 10 % to about 90 % of the interstitial spaces between the carbon micro structures. However, the binder does not penetrate the individual carbon micro structures and the voids within carbon micro structures are unfilled, i.e., not filled with any binder. Thus the carbon layers within the carbon microstructures are not locked together by a binder. Through this mechanism, the flexibility of the carbon composite, particularly, expanded carbon composite can be preserved.

[0038] The carbon microstructures have a thickness of about 1 to about 200 microns, about 1 to about 150 microns, about 1 to about 100 microns, about 1 to about 50 microns, or about 10 to about 20 microns. The diameter or largest dimension of the carbon

microstructures is about 5 to about 500 microns or about 10 to about 500 microns. The aspect ratio of the carbon microstructures can be about 10 to about 500, about 20 to about 400, or about 25 to about 350. In an embodiment, the distance between the carbon layers in the carbon microstructures is about 0.3 nanometers to about 1 micron. The carbon microstructures can have a density of about 0.5 to about 3 g/cm 3 , or about 0.1 to about 2 g/cm 3 .

[0039] As used herein, graphite includes natural graphite, synthetic graphite, expandable graphite, expanded graphite, or a combination comprising at least one of the foregoing. Natural graphite is graphite formed by Nature. It can be classified as "flake" graphite, "vein" graphite, and "amorphous" graphite. Synthetic graphite is a manufactured product made from carbon materials. Pyro lytic graphite is one form of the synthetic graphite. Expandable graphite refers to graphite having intercallant materials inserted between layers of natural graphite or synthetic graphite. A wide variety of chemicals have been used to intercalate graphite materials. These include acids, oxidants, halides, or the like. Exemplary intercallant materials include sulfuric acid, nitric acid, chromic acid, boric acid, SO 3 , or halides such as FeCl 3 , ZnCl 2 , and SbCl 5 . Upon heating, the intercallant is converted from a liquid or solid state to a gas phase. Gas formation generates pressure which pushes adjacent carbon layers apart resulting in expanded graphite. The expanded graphite particles are vermiform in appearance, and are therefore commonly referred to as worms.

[0040] Advantageously, the carbon composites comprise expanded graphite microstructures. Compared with other forms of the graphite, expanded graphite has high flexibility and compression recovery, and larger anisotropy. The composites formed from expanded graphite and micro- or nano-sized binder under high pressure and high temperature conditions can thus have excellent elasticity in addition to desirable mechanical strength.

[0041] In the carbon composites, the carbon microstructures are held together by a binding phase. The binding phase comprises a binder which binds carbon microstructures by mechanical interlocking. Optionally, an interface layer is formed between the binder and the carbon microstructures. The interface layer can comprise chemical bonds, solid solutions, or a combination thereof. When present, the chemical bonds, solid solutions, or a combination thereof may strengthen the interlocking of the carbon microstructures. It is appreciated that the carbon microstructures may be held together by both mechanical interlocking and chemical bonding. For example the chemical bonding, solid solution, or a combination thereof may be formed between some carbon microstructures and the binder or for a particular carbon micro structure only between a portion of the carbon on the surface of the carbon micro structure and the binder. For the carbon microstructures or portions of the carbon microstructures that do not form a chemical bond, solid solution, or a combination thereof, the carbon microstructures can be bounded by mechanical interlocking. The thickness of the binding phase is about 0.1 to about 100 microns or about 1 to about 20 microns. The binding phase can form a continuous or discontinuous network that binds carbon microstructures together.

[0042] Exemplary binders include Si0 2 , Si, B, B 2 0 3 , a metal, an alloy, or a combination comprising at least one of the foregoing. The metal can be aluminum, copper, titanium, nickel, tungsten, chromium, iron, manganese, zirconium, hafnium, vanadium, niobium, molybdenum, tin, bismuth, antimony, lead, cadmium, and selenium. The alloy includes the alloys of aluminum, copper, titanium, nickel, tungsten, chromium, iron, manganese, zirconium, hafnium, vanadium, niobium, molybdenum, tin, bismuth, antimony, lead, cadmium, and selenium. In an embodiment, the binder comprises copper, nickel, chromium, iron, titanium, an alloy of copper, an alloy of nickel, an alloy of chromium, an alloy of iron, an alloy of titanium, or a combination comprising at least one of the foregoing metal or metal alloy. Exemplary alloys include steel, nickel-chromium based alloys such as Inconel*, and nickel-copper based alloys such as Monel alloys. Nickel-chromium based alloys can contain about 40-75% of Ni, about 10-35% of Cr. The nickel-chromium based alloys can also contain about 1 to about 15% of iron. Small amounts of Mo, Nb, Co, Mn, Cu, Al, Ti, Si, C, S, P, B, or a combination comprising at least one of the foregoing can also be included in the nickel-chromium based alloys. Nickel-copper based alloys are primarily composed of nickel (up to about 67%) and copper. The nickel-copper based alloys can also contain small amounts of iron, manganese, carbon, and silicon. These materials can be in different shapes, such as particles, fibers, and wires. Combinations of the materials can be used.

[0043] The binder used to make the carbon composite is micro- or nano-sized. In an embodiment, the binder has an average particle size of about 0.05 to about 10 microns, specifically, about 0.5 to about 5 microns, more specifically about 0.1 to about 3 microns. Without wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that when the binder has a size within these ranges, it disperses uniformly among the carbon micro structures.

[0044] When an interface layer is present, the binding phase comprises a binder layer comprising a binder and an interface layer bonding one of the at least two carbon

micro structures to the binder layer. In an embodiment, the binding phase comprises a binder layer, a first interface layer bonding one of the carbon micro structures to the binder layer, and a second interface layer bonding the other of the microstructures to the binder layer. The first interface layer and the second interface layer can have the same or different compositions.

[0045] The interface layer comprises a C-metal bond, a C-B bond, a C-Si bond, a C- O-Si bond, a C-O-metal bond, a metal carbon solution, or a combination comprising at least one of the foregoing. The bonds are formed from the carbon on the surface of the carbon microstructures and the binder.

[0046] In an embodiment, the interface layer comprises carbides of the binder. The carbides include carbides of aluminum, titanium, nickel, tungsten, chromium, iron, manganese, zirconium, hafnium, vanadium, niobium, molybdenum, or a combination comprising at least one of the foregoing. These carbides are formed by reacting the corresponding metal or metal alloy binder with the carbon atoms of the carbon

microstructures. The binding phase can also comprise SiC formed by reacting Si0 2 or Si with the carbon of carbon microstructures, or B 4 C formed by reacting B or B 2 0 3 with the carbon of the carbon microstructures. When a combination of binder materials is used, the interface layer can comprise a combination of these carbides. The carbides can be salt-like carbides such as aluminum carbide, covalent carbides such as SiC, B 4 C, interstitial carbides such as carbides of the group 4, 5, and 5 transition metals, or intermediate transition metal carbides, for example the carbides of Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, and Ni.

[0047] In another embodiment, the interface layer comprises a solid solution of carbon and the binder. Carbon have solubility in certain metal matrix or at certain temperature range, which helps both wetting and binding of metal phase onto carbon microstructures. Through heat-treatment, high solubility of carbon in metal can be maintained at low temperature. These metals include Co, Fe, La, Mn, Ni, or Cu. The binder layer can also comprises a combination of solid solutions and carbides.

[0048] The carbon composites comprise about 20 to about 95 wt. %, about 20 to about 80 wt. %, or about 50 to about 80 wt. % of carbon, based on the total weight of the composites. The binder is present in an amount of about 5 wt. % to about 75 wt. % or about 20 wt. % to about 50 wt. %, based on the total weight of the composites. In the carbon composites, the weight ratio of carbon relative to the binding is about 1 :4 to about 20: 1, or about 1 :4 to about 4:1, or about 1 : 1 to about 4: 1.

[0049] FIG. 1 is a SEM image of a composition containing expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder blended at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. As shown in FIG. 1, the binder (white area) is only deposited on the surface of some of the expanded graphite worms.

[0050] FIG. 2 is a SEM image of a carbon composite formed from expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder under high pressure and high temperature conditions. As shown in FIG. 2, a binding phase (light area) is evenly distributed between the expanded graphite microstructures (dark area).

[0051] A SEM image of carbon graphite microstructures are shown in FIG. 3. An embodiment of a carbon composite is illustrated in Fig 4. As shown in FIG. 4, the composite comprises carbon microstructures 1 and binding phase 2 locking the carbon microstructures. The binding phase 2 comprises binder layer 3 and an optional interface layer 4 disposed between the binder layer and the carbon microstructures. The carbon composite contains interstitial space 5 among carbon microstructures 1. Within carbon microstructures, there are unfilled voids 6.

[0052] The carbon composites can optionally comprise a filler. Exemplary filler includes carbon fibers, carbon black, mica, clay, glass fiber, ceramic fibers, and ceramic hollow structures. Ceramic materials include SiC, S1 3 N 4 , Si0 2 , BN, and the like. The filler can be present in an amount of about 0.5 to about 10 wt. % or about 1 to about 8%.

[0053] The composites can have any desired shape including a bar, block, sheet, tubular, cylindrical billet, toroid, powder, pellets, or other form that may be machined, formed or otherwise used to form useful articles of manufacture. The sizes or the dimension of these forms are not particularly limited. Illustratively, the sheet has a thickness of about 10 μιη to about 10 cm and a width of about 10 mm to about 2 m. The powder comprises particles having an average size of about 10 μιη to about 1 cm. The pellets comprise particles having an average size of about 1 cm to about 5 cm.

[0054] One way to form the carbon composites is to compress a combination comprising carbon and a micro- or nano-sized binder to provide a green compact by cold pressing; and to compressing and heating the green compact thereby forming the carbon composites. In another embodiment, the combination can be pressed at room temperature to form a compact, and then the compact is heated at atmospheric pressure to form the carbon composite. These processes can be referred to as two-step processes. Alternatively, a combination comprising carbon and a micro- or nano-sized binder can be compressed and heated directly to form the carbon composites. The process can be referred to as a one-step process.

[0055] In the combination, the carbon such as graphite is present in an amount of about 20 wt.% to about 95 wt.%, about 20 wt.% to about 80 wt.%, or about 50 wt.% to about 80 wt.%, based on the total weight of the combination. The binder is present in an amount of about 5 wt. % to about 75 wt. % or about 20 wt. % to about 50 wt. %, based on the total weight of the combination. The graphite in the combination can be in the form of chip, powder, platelet, flake, or the like. In an embodiment, the graphite is in the form of flakes having a diameter of about 50 microns to about 5,000 microns, preferably about 100 to about 300 microns. The graphite flakes can have a thickness of about 1 to about 5 microns. The density of the combination is about 0.01 to about 0.05 g/cm 3 , about 0.01 to about 0.04 g/cm 3 , about 0.01 to about 0.03 g/cm 3 or about 0.026 g/cm 3 . The combination can be formed by blending the graphite and the micro- or nano-sized binder via any suitable methods known in the art. Examples of suitable methods include ball mixing, acoustic mixing, ribbon blending, vertical screw mixing, and V-blending.

[0056] Referring to the two-step process, cold pressing means that the combination comprising the graphite and the micro-sized or nano-sized binder is compressed at room temperature or at an elevated temperature as long as the binder does not significantly bond with the graphite microstructures. In an embodiment, greater than about 80 wt.%, greater than about 85 wt.%, greater than about 90 wt.%, greater than about 95 wt.%, or greater than about 99 wt.%) of the microstructures are not bonded in the green compact. The pressure to form the green compact can be about 500 psi to about 10 ksi and the temperature can be about 20°C to about 200°C. The reduction ratio at this stage, i.e., the volume of the green compact relative to the volume of the combination, is about 40% to about 80%. The density of the green compact is about 0.1 to about 5 g/cm 3 , about 0.5 to about 3 g/cm 3 , or about 0.5 to about 2 g/cm 3 .

[0057] The green compact can be heated at a temperature of about 350°C to about 1200°C, specifically about 800°C to about 1200°C to form the carbon composites. In an embodiment, the temperature is above the melting point of the binder, for example, about 20°C to about 100°C higher or about 20°C to about 50°C higher than the melting point of the binder. When the temperature is higher, the binder becomes less viscose and flows better, and less pressure may be required in order for the binder to be evenly distributed in the voids between the carbon microstructures. However, if the temperature is too high, it may have detrimental effects to the instrument.

[0058] The temperature can be applied according to a predetermined temperature schedule or ramp rate. The means of heating is not particularly limited. Exemplary heating methods include direct current (DC) heating, induction heating, microwave heating, and spark plasma sintering (SPS). In an embodiment, the heating is conducted via DC heating. For example, the combination comprising the graphite and the micro- or nano-sized binder can be charged with a current, which flows through the combination generating heat very quickly. Optionally, the heating can also be conducted under an inert atmosphere, for example, under argon or nitrogen. In an embodiment, the green compact is heated in the presence of air.

[0059] The heating can be conducted at a pressure of about 500 psi to about 30,000 psi or about 1000 psi to about 5000 psi. The pressure can be a superatmo spheric pressure or a subatmospheric pressure. Without wishing to be bound by theory, it is believed that when a superatmospheric pressure is applied to the combination, the micro- or nano-sized binder is forced into the voids between carbon microstructures through infiltration. When a subatmospheric pressure is applied to the combination, the micro- or nano-sized binder can also be forced into the voids between the carbon microstructures by capillary forces.

[0060] In an embodiment, the desirable pressure to form the carbon composites is not applied all at once. After the green compact is loaded, a low pressure is initially applied to the composition at room temperature or at a low temperature to close the large pores in the composition. Otherwise, the melted binder may flow to the surface of the die. Once the temperature reaches the predetermined maximum temperature, the desirable pressure required to make the carbon composites can be applied. The temperature and the pressure can be held at the predetermined maximum temperature and the predetermined maximum temperature for 5 minutes to 120 minutes.

[0061] The reduction ratio at this stage, i.e. the volume of the carbon composite relative to the volume of the green compact, is about 10% to about 70% or about 20 to about 40%. The density of the carbon composite can be varied by controlling the degree of compression. The carbon composites have a density of about 0.5 to about 10 g/cm 3 , about 1 to about 8 g/cm 3 , about 1 to about 6 g/cm 3 , about 2 to about 5 g/cm 3 , about 3 to about 5 g/cm 3 , or about 2 to about 4 g/cm 3 .

[0062] Alternatively, also referring to a two-step process, the combination can be first pressed at room temperature and a pressure of about 500 psi to 30,000 psi to form a compact; the compact can be further heated at a temperature higher than the melting point of the binder to make the carbon composite. In an embodiment, the temperature can be about 20°C to about 100°C higher or about 20°C to about 50°C higher than the melting point of the binder. The heating can be conducted at atmospheric pressure.

[0063] In another embodiment, the carbon composite can be made from the combination of the graphite and the binder directly without making the green compact. The pressing and the heating can be carried out simultaneously. Suitable pressures and temperatures can be the same as discussed herein for the second step of the two-step process.

[0064] Hot pressing is a process that applies temperature and pressure

simultaneously. It can be used in both the one-step and the two-step processes to make carbon composites.

[0065] The carbon composites can be made in a mold through a one-step or a two- step process. The obtained carbon composites can be further machined or shaped to form a bar, block, tubular, cylindrical billet, or toroid. Machining includes cutting, sawing, ablating, milling, facing, lathing, boring, and the like using, for example, a miller, saw, lathe, router, electric discharge machine, and the like. Alternatively, the carbon composite can be directly molded to the useful shape by choosing the molds having the desired shape.

[0066] Sheet materials such as web, paper, strip, tape, foil, mat or the like can also be made via hot rolling. In an embodiment, the carbon composite sheets made by hot rolling can be further heated to allow the binder to effectively bond the carbon micro structures together. [0067] Carbon composite pellets can be made by extrusion. For example, a combination of the graphite and the micro- or nano-sized binder can be first loaded in a container. Then combination is pushed into an extruder through a piston. The extrusion temperature can be about 350°C to about 1400°C or about 800°C to about 1200°C. In an embodiment, the extrusion temperature is higher than the melting point of the binder, for example, about 20 to about 50°C higher than the melting point of the binder. In an embodiment, wires are obtained from the extrusion, which can be cut to form pellets. In another embodiment, pellets are directly obtained from the extruder. Optionally, a post treatment process can be applied to the pellets. For example, the pellets can be heated in a furnace above the melting temperature of the binder so that the binder can bond the carbon micro structures together if the carbon micro structures have not been bonded or not adequately bonded during the extrusion.

[0068] Carbon composite powder can be made by milling carbon composites, for example a solid piece, through shearing forces (cutting forces). It is noted that the carbon composites should not be smashed. Otherwise, the voids within the carbon microstructures may be destroyed thus the carbon composites lose elasticity.

[0069] The carbon composites have a number of advantageous properties for use in a wide variety of applications. In an especially advantageous feature, by forming carbon composites, both the mechanical strength and the elastomeric properties are improved.

[0070] To illustrate the improvement of elastic energy achieved by the carbon composites, the stress-strain curves for the following samples are shown in FIG. 5 : (A) natural graphite, (B) expanded graphite, (C) a mixture of expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder formed at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, (D) a mixture of expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder formed by at a high temperature and atmospheric pressure; and (E) a carbon composite formed from expanded graphite and a micro- and nano-sized binder under high pressure and high temperature conditions. For the natural graphite, the sample was made by compressing natural graphite in a steel die at a high pressure. The expanded graphite sample was also made in a similar manner.

[0071] As shown in Fig. 5, the natural graphite has a very low elastic energy (area under the stress-strain curve) and is very brittle. The elastic energy of expanded graphite and the elastic energy of the mixture of expanded graphite and a micro- or nano-sized binder compacted at room temperature and high pressure is higher than that of the natural graphite. Conversely, both the hard and soft carbon composites of the disclosure exhibit significantly improved elasticity shown by the notable increase of the elastic energy as compared to the natural graphite alone, the expanded graphite alone, and the mixture of expanded graphite and binder compacted at room temperature and high pressure. In an embodiment, the carbon composites have an elastic elongation of greater than about 4%, greater than about 6%, or between about 4% and about 40%.

[0072] The elasticity of the carbon composites is further illustrated in Figs 6 and 7. FIG. 6 shows loop test results of a carbon composite at different loadings. FIG. 7 shows hysteresis results of a carbon composite tested at room temperature and 500°F respectively. As shown in FIG. 7, the elasticity of the carbon composite is maintained at 500°F.

[0073] In addition to mechanical strength and elasticity, the carbon composites can also have excellent thermal stability at high temperatures. FIG. 8 compares a carbon composite before and after exposing to air at 500°C for 5 days. FIG. 9 (A) is a photo of a carbon composite sample after a thermo shock for 8 hours. The condition for the thermal shock is shown in FIG. 9(B). As shown in Figs 8 and 9(A), there are no changes to the carbon composite sample after exposing to air at 500°C for 25 hours or after the thermal shock. The carbon composites can have high thermal resistance with a range of operation temperatures from about -65 °F up to about 1200°F, specifically up to about 1100°F, and more specifically about 1000°F.

[0074] The carbon composites can also have excellent chemical resistance at elevated temperatures. In an embodiment, the composite is chemically resistant to water, oil, brines, and acids with resistance rating from good to excellent. In an embodiment, the carbon composites can be used continuously at high temperatures and high pressures, for example, about 68°F to about 1200°F, or about 68°F to about 1000°F, or about 68°F to about 750°F under wet conditions, including basic and acidic conditions. Thus, the carbon composites resist swelling and degradation of properties when exposed to chemical agents (e.g., water, brine, hydrocarbons, acids such as HC1, solvents such as toluene, etc.), even at elevated temperatures of up to 200°F, and at elevated pressures (greater than atmospheric pressure) for prolonged periods. The chemical resistance of the carbon composite is illustrated in Figs 10 and 11. FIG. 10 compares a carbon composite sample before and after exposing to tap water for 20 hours at 200°F, or after exposing to tap water for 3 days at 200°F. As shown in FIG. 10, there are no changes to the sample. FIG. 11 compares a carbon composite sample before and after exposing to 15% HC1 solution with inhibitor at 200°F for 20 hours, or after exposing to 15% HC1 solution at 200°F for 3 days. Again, there are no changes to the carbon composite sample. [0075] The carbon composites are medium hard to extra hard with harness from about 50 in SHORE A up to about 75 in SHORE D scale.

[0076] As a further advantageous feature, the carbon composites have stable sealing force at high temperatures. The stress decay of components under constant compressive strain is known as compression stress relaxation. A compression stress relaxation test also known as sealing force relaxation test measures the sealing force exerted by a seal or O-ring under compression between two plates. It provides definitive information for the prediction of the service life of materials by measuring the sealing force decay of a sample as a function of time, temperature and environment. FIG. 12 shows the sealing force relaxation test results of a carbon composite sample 600°F. As shown in FIG. 12, the sealing force of the carbon composite is stable at high temperatures. In an embodiment, the sealing force of a sample of the composite at 15% strain and 600°F is maintained at about 5800 psi without relaxation for at least 20 minutes.

[0077] The carbon composites described above may be useful for preparing articles for a wide variety of applications including, but not limited to, electronics, this hot metal processing, coatings, aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and marine applications. Exemplary articles include seals, bearings, bearing seats, packers, valves, engines, reactors, cooling systems, and heat sinks. Thus, in an embodiment, an article comprises the carbon

composites. The carbon composites may be used to form all or a portion of a downhole article in accordance with an aspect of an exemplary embodiment, as will be discussed more fully below. Of course, it should be understood that the carbon composites may be employed in a wide range of applications and environments.

[0078] A subsurface exploration system, in accordance with an exemplary

embodiment, is indicated generally at 200, in FIG. 13. Subsurface extraction system 200 includes an up hole system 204 operative ly connected to a downhole system 206. Uphole system 204 may include pumps 208 that aid in completion and/or extraction processes as well as a fluid storage portion 210. Fluid storage portion 210 may contain a fluid that may be introduced into downhole system 206. Downhole system 206 may include a downhole string 220 that extends into a wellbore 221 formed in formation 222. Wellbore 221 may include a wellbore casing 223. Downhole string 220 may include a number of connected downhole tubulars 224. One of tubulars 224 may support a flexible carbon composite annular seal 228.

[0079] Flexible carbon composite annular seal 228 includes a chevron or V-shaped cross-section and may be made according to a method 280 depicted in FIG. 14. In block 300 a carbon composite mixture 302 (FIG. 15) may be formed by combining/blending expanded graphite with metal binders. Metal binders may be present at a weight ratio of 50% or greater. In accordance with an aspect of an exemplary embodiment, the carbon composite mixture may be milled to form a powder, as indicated in block 304. However, it should be understood that the carbon composite mixture may also be utilized without milling.

[0080] In block 306, carbon composite mixture 302 is introduced into a mold 320 having a mold pin 322, shown in FIG. 15. Mold pin 322 includes a surface profile (not separately labeled) that corresponds to a portion of the V-shaped cross-section of flexible carbon composite annular seal 228. FIG. 16 depicts a second mold pin 330 introduced into mold 320. Second mold pin 330 includes a surface profile (not separately labeled) that corresponds to another portion of the V-shaped cross-section of flexible carbon composite annular seal 228. Second mold pin 330 is urged toward first mold pin 322 to compress carbon composite mixture 302, as indicated in block 334. In FIG. 17, carbon composite mixture 302 may be heated to a selected temperature by introducing an electric current into first and second electrodes 342 and 344, as indicated in block 350. Heating may be achieved by passing an electrical current through carbon composite mixture 302. Of course, it should be understood that carbon composite mixture 302 may be heated through other mechanisms. Also, it should be understood that the selected temperature may vary depending on desired characteristics of flexible carbon composite annular seal 228.

[0081] In block 360, flexible carbon composite annular seal 228 is removed from mold 320, as shown in FIG. 18. At this point, flexible carbon composite annular seal 228 may be mounted to downhole tubular 224. Of course, it should be understood that flexible carbon composite seal 228 may be employed in a wide range of applications both downhole and uphole. It should also be understood that flexible carbon composite seal 228 may be employed in resource exploration, resource extraction, and CO2 sequestration systems. It should be further understood that flexible carbon composite annular seal 228 may take on a variety of shapes. In accordance with an aspect of an exemplary embodiment, flexible carbon composite annular seal 228 may be machined to form a selected shape, as shown in block 365. In accordance with another exemplary aspect, as shown in FIG. 19, a flexible carbon composite seal 362 is shown to have a C-shaped cross-section. In such a case, a biasing element 364, shown in the form of a coil spring 366, may be integrated into flexible carbon composite annular seal 362, as shown in block 370. FIG. 20 depicts a flexible carbon composite annular seal 380 that includes first and second biasing members 390 and 400. First and second biasing members 390 and 400 are over molded or encapsulated by carbon composite mixture 302.

[0082] Method 280 may also be employed to form other annular seal shapes such as a flexible carbon composite annular seal 410 having a generally circular cross-section shown in FIG. 21, a flexible carbon composite annular seal 420 having a generally rectangular cross- section shown in FIG. 22, a flexible carbon composite annular seal 430 having a generally T- shaped cross-section shown in FIG. 23, and a flexible carbon composite annular seal 440 having a generally X-shaped cross-section shown in FIG. 24. Other shapes are also contemplated.

[0083] The use of the carbon composite mixture results in seal having a low coefficient of friction. The low coefficient of friction provides a self-lubricating quality to flexible carbon composite annular seal formed in accordance with exemplary embodiments. As shown in FIG. 24, the flexible carbon composite of the exemplary embodiment includes a lower coefficient of friction that that of perfluoro-elastomers (FFKM),

tetraflouro ethylene/propylene (FEPM), nitrile rubber (NBR) and polyether-ether ketone (PEEK). In addition to self- lubricating characteristics due to the low coefficient of friction, the use of the carbon composite material as described above enables the flexible seal to be employed in a wide range of operating environments. The flexible seal resists galling, harsh chemicals, corrosion, oxidation and exposure to high temperatures. More specifically, the flexible seal may be employed in environments that reach upwards of 1200 °F (648.8 °C). Further, mechanical properties of the flexible seal including creating an interlocked structure by driving metal melt into gaps between graphite layered basal planes, may be tuned to application specific qualities by adjusting metal phase selection, graphite/metal ratio, heat treatment processing and the like. Also, it should be understood that in addition to hydrocarbon exploration and recovery applications, the flexible seal may also be employed in food and pharmaceutical applications.

[0084] While one or more embodiments have been shown and described,

modifications and substitutions may be made thereto without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Accordingly, it is to be understood that the present invention has been described by way of illustrations and not limitation.