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SPE-185406-MS

Economic Design of Surfactant-Polymer Flooding Under Low Oil Price

Kang Zhou, Jian Hou, Xiaoyun Ren, and Bo Yu, China University of Petroleum

Copyright 2017, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Oil and Gas India Conference and Exhibition held in Mumbai, India, 4–6 April 2017.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents
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Abstract
Surfactant-Polymer (SP) flooding has been successfully used in some heavy oilfields in China. However,
it still remains a challenge to extend the application of this method to more complex reservoirs especially
considering the current low oil price, the high chemical cost and the complex reservoir conditions. So the
paper studies the effect of liquid flow rate, SP injection mode, reservoir properties, well patterns and well
spacing on the development performance of SP flooding, which can provide valuable guidance for economic
design of SP flooding for various reservoir conditions under low oil price.
In order to evaluate the technical and economic suitability of the SP flooding, the ratio of enhanced
oil production to equivalent chemical injection (EOPPC) is defined. In this paper, a basic reservoir model
is established and history matched based on the pilot test in Shengli Oilfield. Then, a series of typical
reservoir conditions are simulated by changing geological properties such as permeability heterogeneity and
oil viscosity. Based on these reservoir models, the effect of liquid flow rate, SP injection mode, reservoir
properties, well patterns and well spacing on SP flooding is studied. Besides, the relationships between
optimum SP design and reservoir properties are discussed. Finally, a mathematical model characterizing
the relationship between SP flooding performance, operational parameters and reservoir properties is
established.
Results show that a lower SP flooding rate of 0.1PV/a and a higher post-SP water flooding rate of 0.2PV/
a obtains the highest EOPPC of 44.73m3/t. As the permeability heterogeneity and oil viscosity increase, a
lower concentration and larger slug size are preferred for better SP flooding performance when the total
amount of chemicals is kept unchanged. Streamline analysis indicates injection and production well pairs
should be located perpendicular with high permeable channels in order to increase sweep efficiency. In this
paper, the line drive and five-spot well patterns obtain a higher sweep efficiency of over 82%. Considering
the cost of well drilling and surface facilities, the economic well spacing is 140m between each pair of
injector and producer. The developed quantitative prediction model has a fitting precision of over 98% and
it is capable of assisting economic design of SP flooding for various reservoir conditions under low oil price.
The paper carries out studies on economic design of SP flooding according to particular reservoir
properties. It also provides effective guidance for future pilot tests and commercial applications in more
complex heavy oilfields under low oil price.
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Introduction
Most water flooding oilfields in China have entered high water-cut development stage. The average oil
recovery is only about 30% because of reservoir heterogeneity and water channeling flow. As a result, many
enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods have been used to increase the oil recovery such as chemical flooding,
thermal oil recovery methods and gas flooding. Since surfactant-polymer (SP) flooding can effectively
enhance oil recovery by increasing water viscosity and decreasing interfacial tension. It has been wildly
used in common heavy oilfields such as Daqing and Shengli in China. However, it still remains a challenge
to extend the application of SP flooding to more complex reservoirs especially considering the current low
oil price, the high chemical cost and the various reservoir conditions. So the paper carries out simulation
studies on SP flooding in order to deepen the understandings of this EOR method and then assist economic
design of SP flooding for various reservoir conditions under low oil price.
Considering the high cost and large investment of SP flooding, researchers all over the world have
conducted many studies on optimum design of SP projects in order to obtain the best development
performance with the least SP cost. This problem has been a long standing issue in chemical flooding
engineering (Wang and Caudle, 1970; Jones, 1972; Holm and Jones, 1973; Pope et al, 1979; Wright et
al, 1987; Lutchmansingh et al., 1988; Clifford 1988; Yang et al, 2004; Wang et al., 2010; Zhou et al.,
2013; Hou et al. 2015; Bahrami et al., 2016). In recent years, Luo et al. (2013) optimized SP flooding for
western canadian heavy oils. Douarche et al. (2014) approximated the oil production computed by reservoir
simulators based on response-surface modeling and then optimized the design of the SP process, taking
economic parameters and uncertainties on the data into account. AlSofi and Blunt (2014) developed a
parallel design algorithm to optimize polymer floods with respect to net present value in terms of slug size,
polymer concentration, and initiation. Wu et al. (2014) analyzed the influence of viscosity and interfacial
tension (IFT) on oil displacement efficiency in heterogeneous reservoirs. Nguyen et al. (2014) proposed a
new approach for optimization and uncertainty assessment of SP flooding. Ge et al. (2015) developed an
optimization model of alkali/polymer flooding and proposed a parallel self-regulation differential evolution
algorithm with maximum average entropy to get the optimal injection-production strategy. Choudhuri et
al. (2015) carried out optimization studies for a large polymer flooding reservoir based on a full-field
streamline simulation method. Le Van and Chon (2016) proposed an approach involving the use of an
artificial neural network to generate a representative model for estimating the alkali-surfactant-polymer
flooding performance and evaluating the economic feasibility of viscous oil reservoirs.
As reviewed above, the current studies on optimization of SP design mainly focus on new solving
methods and accurate prediction models. However, few studies can be found focusing on the effect of
reservoir properties on the optimum SP design. This is definitely an important problem because the optimum
SP design is different for different reservoirs. Therefore, the paper tries to study the effect of liquid flow rate,
SP injection mode, reservoir properties, well patterns and well spacing on the performance of SP flooding.
On the basis, the effect of reservoir properties on optimum SP injection strategy is discussed. Finally, a
quantitative prediction model is developed which can be used to get the optimum SP design considering
reservoir properties.

Problem statement
Reservoir simulation model
The SP flooding has been successfully used in many commercial oilfields such as Daqing and Shengli in
China. In this paper, a synthetic reservoir model is built based on the geological properties of a typical SP
flooding pilot test in Shengli. The simulation model is composed of 53×53×3=8427 grids. The step size
of each grid is 10.6m in x and y direction while that in z direction varies according to the actual reservoir
block. Fig. 1a shows the 3D map and well locations of the synthetic model. Fig. 1b details the distribution
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of the horizontal permeabilities of the first layer. Their distribution trends are similar in the other two layers
of simulation grids. Table 1 summaries the geological parameters of the reservoir model.

Figure 1—The synthetic reservoir simulation model.

Table 1—The geological parameters of the reservoir simulation model.

Parameters Values Parameters Values

Oil-bearing area, km 2 0.31 Initial pressure, MPa 12.4


Geological reserves, 10 m 4 3 90 Saturation pressure, MPa 10.2
Pore volume, 10 m 4 3 129 Oil viscosity, mPa·s 45
Depth, m 1261-1294 Effective thickness, m 12
Average permeability, 10-3μm2 1500 Relative density 0.953
Heterogeneity coefficient 0.6 Reservoir temperature, °C 68
Initial oil saturation, % 72 Average porosity, % 34

In order to test the viability of the synthetic model, it is first developed using the injection and production
parameters detailed in Table 2. The SP slug is injected at water cut of 95% and the overall simulation
results are illustrated. Fig. 2 compares the simulation results of water cuts obtained in SP flooding and
water flooding, respectively. Fig. 3 illustrates the variation of cumulative oil recovery percentage versus
development years. As can be seen, water flooding only produces about 36.68% of the original oil in place
(OOIP) when the water cut rises to 98%. However, after SP flooding, the water cut is reduced as much as
17.77% and the cumulative oil recovery increases 8.73% at the water cut of 98%. The simulation results
is in accordance with the actual development performance of the pilot test in Shengli Oilfield, so it can be
used in this paper to study the economic design of SP flooding under low oil price.

Table 2—The injection and production parameters of the basic development scheme.

Parameters Values Parameters Values

Pre-SP water flooding rate, PV/a 0.1 Polymer concentration, mg/L 2000
SP flooding rate, PV/a 0.1 Surfactant concentration, % 0.4
Post-SP water flooding rate, PV/a 0.1 SP slug size, PV 0.4
Well pattern Five-spot Well spacing, m 200
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Figure 2—Comparison of water cut between water flooding and SP flooding.

Figure 3—Comparison of cumulative oil recovery between water flooding and SP flooding.

Definition of economic evaluation parameter


As mentioned above, the parameter of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is commonly used to evaluate the
performance of SP flooding. But it is only a technical index which doesn't take the economic cost into
account. This is very unreasonable especially considering the adverse condition of persistent low oil price.
So it is essential to evaluate the viability of a SP flooding project using a comprehensive index considering
both technical and economic parameters. In this paper, the ratio of enhanced oil production to equivalent
chemical injection (EOPPC) is defined. It can be formulated in detail as:

(1)

where EOPPC denotes the ratio of enhanced oil production to equivalent chemical (polymer and surfactant)
injection, m3/t; ΔQo denotes the enhanced oil production by SP flooding than water flooding, m3; Mp and
Msp denote the injection amounts of polymer and surfactant respectively, t.
In the simulation study, the polymer injection amount is calculated by:
(2)
where Vφ denotes the pore volume of the reservoir model, m3; Dp denotes slug size of polymer injection,
PV; Cp denotes the polymer concentration, mg/L.
The equivalent polymer amount of surfactant injection is calculated by:
SPE-185406-MS 5

(3)

where Ds denotes slug size of surfactant injection, PV; Cs denotes the surfactant concentration, mg/L; rs and
rp denote the price of surfactant and polymer respectively, CNY/t (China Yuan per ton).
Substitute equations (2) and (3) into equation (1), we can get the EOPPC written as:

(4)

On the basis of EOPPC, the paper studies the effect of injection rate before, during and after SP flooding,
oil viscosity, permeability heterogeneity, combination mode between slug size and concentration, well
pattern and well spacing on the economic performance of SP flooding. The paper tries to develop the
economic design of SP flooding under low oil price for reservoirs with a wide range of geological properties.

Results and analyses


Effect of liquid flow rate
Recently, increasing liquid flow rate has been used as an efficient method after chemical flooding in order
to increase the cumulative oil production. However, it still needs more researches on the effect of liquid
flow rates before, during and after SP flooding on the performance of SP flooding projects. In this paper,
the liquid flow rates at the 3 stages are set as 0.1PV/a, 0.15PV/a and 0.2PV/a, respectively. In fact, only one
flow rate is changed at a time and so a total of 27 simulations are carried out. Fig. 4 shows the variation
of EOPPC versus liquid flow rates before, during and after SP flooding. Table 3 summaries the simulation
results of the 27 development schemes.

Figure 4—Effect of flow rates before, during and after SP flooding on EOPPC.
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Table 3—The simulation results obtained by different combinations of flow rates at 3 stages.

Pre-SP water Post-SP water


Simulation No. SP flooding rate, PV/a EOPPC, m3/t
flooding rate, PV/a flooding rate, PV/a

1 0.1 0.1 0.1 43.64


2 0.15 0.1 0.1 43.35
3 0.2 0.1 0.1 43.25
4 0.1 0.15 0.1 43.17
5 0.15 0.15 0.1 42.88
6 0.2 0.15 0.1 42.87
7 0.1 0.2 0.1 42.90
8 0.15 0.2 0.1 42.74
9 0.2 0.2 0.1 42.59
10 0.1 0.1 0.15 44.26
11 0.15 0.1 0.15 43.98
12 0.2 0.1 0.15 44.18
13 0.1 0.15 0.15 44.02
14 0.15 0.15 0.15 43.99
15 0.2 0.15 0.15 43.93
16 0.1 0.2 0.15 43.78
17 0.15 0.2 0.15 43.73
18 0.2 0.2 0.15 43.66
19 0.1 0.1 0.2 44.73
20 0.15 0.1 0.2 44.58
21 0.2 0.1 0.2 44.61
22 0.1 0.15 0.2 44.50
23 0.15 0.15 0.2 44.60
24 0.2 0.15 0.2 44.48
25 0.1 0.2 0.2 44.25
26 0.15 0.2 0.2 44.32
27 0.2 0.2 0.2 44.18

As can be seen from Fig. 4 and Table 3, the pre-SP water flooding rate has little effect on EOPPC. This
is mainly because the SP slug is injected under the water cut of 95% in all development schemes. With the
increase of SP flooding rate, there is a small decrease in EOPPC. This is mainly because larger injection
rate results in a relatively shorter working time for the SP slug underground in the reservoir. The post-SP
water flooding rate has a relatively large effect on the EOPPC of the overall SP flooding. Obviously, the
EOPPC increases as the post-SP water flooding rate increases. The simulation results proves that increasing
liquid flow rate is an efficient stimulation method after SP flooding to increase the economic development
performance. In this study, the largest EOPPC of 44.73 m3/t is obtained under the flow rates of 0.1PV/a,
0.1PV/a and 0.2PV/a respectively before, during and after SP flooding. Therefore, in order to improve the
economic development performance of SP flooding especially under low oil price, the paper suggests a
lower SP flooding rate and a higher post-SP water flooding rate. If injection capacity allows, the flow rates
of 0.1PV/a, 0.1PV/a and 0.2PV/a respectively before, during and after SP flooding may be a good choice
for actual oilfields.
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Effect of SP injection mode


SP flooding is definitely a complex process involving high cost, large investment and big risk especially
under low oil price. In a SP flooding project, the injection amount is determined by SP concentration and
slug size. The main work of SP flooding engineers is to find the optimum combination mode between SP
concentration and slug size constrained by the constant total amount of SP injection. The paper studies the
effect of SP concentration (1500mg/L, 2000mg/L, 3000mg/L, 4000mg/L) on EOPPC based on a series of
reservoir models with different oil viscosities and permeability heterogeneities. In these simulations, the
total amounts of SP injection are all kept the same.
Fig. 5 shows the variations of EOPPC versus polymer concentration under permeability heterogeneity
of 0.9 and oil viscosities of 10, 30, 50, 70, 90, 110, 150mPa•s, respectively. In this paper, the surfactant
concentration increases by the same proportion with polymer concentration. As can be seen, increasing
polymer concentration increases the EOPPC until a critical point and decreases after this point. This
is mainly because larger polymer concentration results in better oil-water mobility ratio, while the
corresponding smaller slug size causes shorter working time of SP injection. So there is a critical point
at which the highest EOPPC can be obtained. This critical point is the optimum concentration under the
constraint of the same total SP injection. The optimum value varies with the reservoir properties such as
oil viscosity and permeability heterogeneity. For example, it is about 2000mg/L when the oil viscosity is
150mPa•s while it is about 3000mg/L when the oil viscosity is 10mPa•s. As shown in Fig. 5, the optimum
polymer concentration decreases gradually as the oil viscosity increases when the total SP injection is kept
constant. This may be confusing. The paper tries to demonstrate this result from the aspect of oil saturation
profile between the injector and producer.

Figure 5—Effect of polymer concentration on EOPPC under different oil viscosities.


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Fig. 6 illustrates the variation of oil saturation profile at four situations. When the oil viscosity is 10mPa·s,
the oil-water mobility ratio can be significantly improved using high concentration SP slug. Besides, the
remaining oil distribution after pre-SP water flooding is not very heterogeneous and thus they are easier to
be pushed together and generate high saturation oil band using SP slug with higher concentration such as
3000mg/L (Fig. 6a). The oil band is displaced more like a piston by the high concentration SP slug although
its slug size is smaller than that in SP flooding using low concentration of 1500mg/L (Fig. 6b). However,
as for reservoir model with oil viscosity of 150mPa·s, the oil-water mobility ratio is hard to improved
greatly by polymer injection. So the oil band and piston-like displacement can hardly generate even using
as high polymer concentration as 3000mg/L (Fig. 6c). A better injection mode for the reservoir with high
oil viscosity is a relatively longer slug size and lower concentration in order to extend the working time
of SP injection (Fig. 6d).

Figure 6—Effect of oil viscosity and polymer concentration on oil saturation profile from injector to producer.

Effect of reservoir properties on optimum SP concentration


As mentioned in Section 3.2, the optimum SP concentration depends on the distribution characteristics
of remaining oil after pre-SP water flooding. Generally speaking, the oil viscosity and permeability
heterogeneity have significant effect on the remaining oil distribution. So this section discusses the
combined effect of oil viscosity and permeability heterogeneity on the optimum polymer concentration
while the total injection amount is kept the same.
Fig. 7 shows the variation of optimum polymer concentration versus oil viscosity and permeability
heterogeneity. As can be seen, the optimum polymer concentration decreases slowly as the oil viscosity
and permeability heterogeneity increase. This is mainly because water channeling is more severe in pre-
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SP water flooding when the oil viscosity and permeability heterogeneity is larger. The SP slug is easier
to break through and move out of the reservoir model. So longer slug size is more useful than higher
polymer concentration in this situation. But as for reservoir model with lower oil viscosity and permeability
heterogeneity, the channeling paths are not severe and the remaining oil is more uniform. So higher
concentration can better improve the oil-water mobility ratio and push the oil band like a piston. So the SP
slug with a higher concentration but a smaller size can achieve very good development performance. From
Fig. 7b, we can also conclude that, the oil viscosity is the dominate influence factor while the permeability
heterogeneity has an important effect when the oil viscosity ranges from 30mPa·s to 70mPa·s.

Figure 7—Effect of oil viscosity and permeability heterogeneity on optimum polymer concentration.

Effect of well pattern


Well pattern has an important effect on enhanced oil recovery and thus on the EOPPC. In this paper, five
well patterns are studied including five-spot, line drive, inverse seven-spot, nine-spot and inverse nine-spot.
In these simulations, the flow rates before, during and after SP flooding are all set as 0.1PV/a. The polymer
and surfactant concentrations are 2000mg/L and 0.4wt% respectively. Fig. 8 compares the EOPPC obtained
by each well pattern. As can be seen, the line drive pattern obtains the highest EOPPC of 48m3/t. The five-
spot and inverse nine-spot patterns have similar EOPPC of about 44m3/t. The EOPPC of the inverse seven-
spot and nine-spot patterns are lowest. The main reason behind these results is the difference of sweep
efficiency of each well pattern.

Figure 8—Effect of well pattern on EOPPC.


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Fig. 9 compares the streamline and remaining oil saturation of each well pattern. Fig. 10 compares the
sweep efficiency of each well pattern. Streamline is the trajectory of fluid under a certain driving pressure.
As can be seen, the streamlines of line drive pattern distribute most wildly, indicating that more regions are
swept by the SP injection and thus its sweep efficiency is the largest. As a result, more oil is produced and the
remaining oil saturation is very low. The sweep efficiency of five-spot and inverse nine-spot patterns are also
relatively larger and their remaining oil saturation is lower correspondingly. However, the inverse seven-
spot and nine-spot patterns obtain relatively lower sweep efficiency and higher remaining oil saturation. So
their EOPPC are the lowest.

Figure 9—Effect of well pattern on streamline and remaining oil saturation.

Figure 10—Effect of well pattern on sweep efficiency.

In order to further illustrate the difference of EOPPC between five-spot and line drive patterns, we can
compare the streamlines of the two well patterns (Fig. 9a and Fig. 9b) with the horizontal permeability
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distribution (Fig. 1b). As can be seen, PRO-3, PRO-5 and INJ-2 in five-spot pattern are located within the
high permeable channel, while in the line drive pattern the flow direction from injector to producer are
perpendicular with the high permeable channel. So the sweep efficiency and thus the EOPPC are lower in
five-spot than that in line drive pattern. This indicates that the well pattern should be reasonably selected in
order to decrease water channeling along high permeable channel. In actual oilfields, several well patterns
may be used together according to geological parameters.

Effect of well spacing


Well spacing determines the control volume of each well. Smaller well spacing results in larger sweep
efficiency and thus higher oil recovery. However, more wells are needed which involves much higher cost.
In order to study the effect of well spacing on EOPPC, the cost of well drilling and complement should
be considered. In accordance with Shengli oilfield, 3 million CNY is used for each new well. As shown in
Fig. 11, five well spacings are studied in the paper, including 100m, 140m, 190m, 240m and 280m based
on the line drive well pattern.

Figure 11—Schematic of reservoir models with different well spacing.

Fig. 12 details the simulation results about the effect of well spacing on EOPPC. As can be seen, the
EOPPC increases gradually from 41.8m3/t to 45.7m3/t when the well spacing decreases from 280m to 140m.
This is mainly because more oil in place can be swept and produced as the well spacing decreases. The
increased oil revenue is larger than the increased cost of added wells. However, when the well spacing
further decreases from 140m to 100m, the EOPPC decreases from 45.7 m3/t to 44.1m3/t although the
oil production still increases. This is mainly because the investment cost of added wells resulting from
smaller well spacing becomes larger than the increased oil production. Therefore, the well spacing should
be reasonably optimized in order to obtain more increased oil production using less investment cost.
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Figure 12—Effect of well spacing on EOPPC.

Quantitative prediction model


In order to quantitatively characterize the relationship between EOPPC and the influence factors, the paper
established a mathematical model using the Levenberg-Marquardt method with simultaneous perturbation
Jacobian approximation. The quantitative prediction model is detailed as equation (5). Fig . 13 compares the
prediction results and the original simulation results. Table 4 details the fitting errors of matching and testing
samples respectively. As can be seen, the prediction and simulation results match well with each other and
the developed mathematical model has a fitting precision of over 98%. So the developed mathematical
model can be used to assist optimum design of SP flooding for various reservoir conditions under low oil
price.

Figure 13—Comparison of EOPPC between prediction and simulation results.

Table 4—Fitting errors between EOPPC of matching and testing samples.

Relative errors, % Matching samples Testing samples

Maximum 4.908902 6.678142


Minimum 0.003763 0.114078
Mean 1.724705 1.729236
SPE-185406-MS 13

(5)

where Vk denotes permeability heterogeneity; μ denotes the oil viscosity; Vw, Vc and Vcw denote the injection
and production rates before, during and after SP flooding respectively; Cp denotes the concentration of
polymer injection.

Conclusions
The paper studies the effect of liquid flow rate, SP injection mode, reservoir properties, well patterns and
well spacing on EOPPC of SP flooding. On the basis, a quantitative prediction model is established to assist
the economic design of SP flooding for various reservoir conditions under low oil price. From this study,
several findings have been found.
1. The injection/production rates before and during SP flooding have little effect on EOPPC, but
increasing post-SP water flooding rates can obtain larger EOPPC of SP projects. So increasing liquid
flow rate after SP flooding should be used together with SP flooding as an effective improved oil
recovery method.
2. Constrained by the same amount of total SP injection, the EOPPC increases with the SP concentration
until a critical point and decreases after this point. The critical point corresponds to the optimum
SP concentration and it depends on reservoir properties. As the permeability heterogeneity and oil
viscosity increase, a relatively lower concentration and larger slug size are preferred for better SP
flooding performance.
3. Five-spot and line drive well pattern obtain higher sweep efficiency and thus larger EOPPC.
Streamline analysis indicates injection and production well pairs should be perpendicular with high
permeable channels so as to decrease water channeling and increase SP performance.
4. Decreasing well spacing can increase sweep efficiency but also involves more investment cost. So
there exists an optimum well spacing based on the reservoir properties and SP economic parameters.
According to the parameters of pilot test in Shengli oilfield, the well spacing of 140m is recommended
in this paper.
5. An mathematical model has been developed to quantify the relationship between the EOPPC of SP
flooding and the influence factors. It has a fitting precision of over 98% and can be used to assist
economic design of optimum SP flooding for various reservoir conditions under low oil price. It also
provides an effective guidance for future pilot tests and commercial applications in more complex
oilfields.

Acknowledgments
The authors greatly appreciate the financial support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China
(Grant no. 51574269), the Project supported by the National Science Foundation for Distinguished Young
Scholars of China (Grant No. 51625403), the Important National Science and Technology Specific Projects
of China (Grant no. 2016ZX05011-003), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities
(Grant no. 15CX08004A).

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