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Oilfield Glossary
Oilfield Glossary
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membrane potential

1. n. [Formation Evaluation]
The electromagnetic force generated across an ion-selective membrane when solutions on either side of the membrane have different salinities. Shales and clays are cationic membranes, since they allow the passage of cations, such as Na+, but not anions, such as Cl-. When the drilling mud in the borehole and the formation water have different salinities, a membrane potential is generated at the boundary between a shale and a permeable formation. This potential is one component of the electrochemical potential, from which the spontaneous potential (SP) log is derived. The other, much smaller component is the liquid-junction potential. The membrane potential is reduced if the shale is not a good cationic membrane, or in other words has a low cation-exchange capacity. A membrane potential may also be generated across the mudcake if there is no flushed zone; for example if the mud filtrate has moved vertically since invasion took place, and by clay within a shaly sand, but with the opposite polarity to the normal SP potentials. The membrane potential is also used in core analysis to determine the cation-exchange capacity of a sample. In this case, the clay within the sample is the ion-selective membrane, and the potential generated across it is related to the cation-exchange capacity per unit pore volume, Qv. As a method of measuring Qv, the technique is faster than the multiple salinity method, and more representative of the in-situ value than destructive methods such as conductometric titration. However, care is needed in making the measurement and deriving the appropriate Qv.