Design to deployment: Microwave multiphase flow meter for oil industry

Seven years of collaborative work produces a novel, microwave resonance-based multiphase flow meter that provides real-time metering of water cut and flow.

Design to deployment: Microwave multiphase flow meter for oil industry

For millions of years, hydrocarbons and water have both existed in the same reservoir rock, thousands of feet beneath the surface. The reality dictates that the hydrocarbons are not produced through the extraction of a single-phase flow, but rather a multiphase flow, which includes a binary liquid phase (oil and water) in addition a gaseous phase (gas). It is important to get a clear picture of the composition of each individual well. 


(Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series on Aramco technologies that are being commercialized by Aramco’s licensing arm, Saudi Aramco Technologies Company.)


Multiphase flow meters are an essential requirement for Aramco’s expansive upstream infrastructure and digital oil fields to accurately measure the exact amount of oil, water, and gas that we produce. Real-time metering would help optimize production and maximize hydrocarbon recovery. However, most commercial multiphase meters are bulky, expensive, use hazardous radioactive sources and are inaccurate when exposed to a wide range of flow conditions. 


Given the damage that excessive water production can cause — such as corrosion, deposition of salts and scale, deposition of hydrocarbon solids like asphaltenes and waxes, and the need to dispose of the water itself — Aramco’s scientists needed a solution, and fast.


As a result of seven years of collaborative work, researchers from Aramco’s in-house Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Center – Advanced Research Center (EXPEC ARC) and from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), have developed a novel, microwave resonance-based multiphase flow meter that provides real-time metering of water cut and flow. This meter is nonradioactive and intrinsically safe. It incorporates an award-winning and patented helical resonator design that guarantees measurement accuracy agnostic to orientation and position. The design, which was tested at Aramco’s research facilities in Houston and by field engineers with the Southern Area Petroleum Engineering Department, lends itself to various sizes of pipes in that it is nonintrusive and scalable and has a compact footprint.


“We initiated this project to address a critical challenge from the field: to measure the flow of hydrocarbons and water accurately in real time,” said Saad M. Mutairi, chief technologist for the Production Technology Division at EXPEC ARC. 


Leading the research was a trio of scientists: Muhammad Arsalan, a petroleum engineering specialist at EXPEC ARC, Atif Shamim, an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at KAUST, and Muhammad A. Karimi, chief technology officer of Saher Flow Solutions. 


The next phase of R&D work focuses on developing a real-time, full three-phase (oil + water + gas) measurement with artificial intelligence capabilities. The initial version of the three-phase meter was tested in April 2022, in a commercial flow loop in the U.S., and a field prototype is expected to be tested late next year in Aramco’s fields. 


A main driver for EXPEC ARC’s success is collaboration and partnership. The development of this metering technology is one example where we partnered with academia, startups, and our Global Research Centers to accelerate technology development to address field challenges.
— Ashraf M. AlTahini, EXPEC ARC manager


“We add value, enhance our processes, and optimize operations through innovation and technology development that resides at the heart of our strategy. These technologies give us reassurance to meet and exceed our business objectives,” said Waleed A. Al-Mulhim, executive director of Petroleum Engineering and Development.


“This technology truly dovetails into Aramco’s IR 4.0 infrastructure. We are quite excited about the commercial potential of this multiphase flow meter. We are currently working with KAUST to license this technology out,” said Abbas S. Ghamdi, CEO of Saudi Aramco Technologies Company (SATC), the licensing arm of Saudi Aramco.


For more information about this technology, please reach out to Subashini Asokan, head of Licensing, SATC at


Caption for top photo: Muhammad Arsalan holds a mock-up of the multiphase flow meter designed for water cut sensing. (Photo by Mohammed Alshaikh/MPD)


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