Development of novel surfactants and surfactant methods for chemical enhanced oil recovery
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The first goal of this research was to develop and experimentally test new and improved chemical formulations for enhanced oil recovery using a new class of branched large-hydrophobe alkoxy carboxylate surfactants mixed with novel co-surfactants and co-solvents to both lower IFT and alter wettability at high temperatures and high salinities. These novel alkoxy carboxylate surfactants with large branched hydrophobes were tested and found to show excellent performance in corefloods over a wide range of reservoir conditions up to at least 120°C. The number of PO and EO groups in these new surfactants were optimized for a wide variety of oils over a broad range of salinity, hardness and temperature and mixed with various co-surfactants and co-solvents to develop high-performance formulations based on the microemulsion phase behavior. Both ultra-low IFT and clear aqueous solutions at optimum salinity were obtained for both active and inactive oils and both light and medium gravity oils over a wide range of temperatures. Both sandstone and carbonate corefloods using these carboxylate surfactants showed excellent performance at high temperature, high hardness and high salinity as indicated by high oil recovery, low pressure gradients and low surfactant retention. The advent of such a new class of cost-effective surfactants significantly broadens the potential application of chemical enhanced oil recovery processes using surfactants under harsh reservoir conditions. The second goal of this research was to evaluate the effect of buoyancy on oil recovery from cores using ultra-low IFT surfactant formulations under conditions where the use of polymer for mobility control is either difficult or unnecessary, determine the conditions that are favorable for a gravity-stable surfactant flood, and further improve the performance of gravity-stable surfactant floods by optimizing the microemulsion properties, especially its viscosity. The microemulsion viscosity can be varied by adjusting the structure of the surfactants and co-solvents and their concentrations. Predictions made using classical stability theory applied to surfactant flooding experiments were determined to be inaccurate because such theory does not take into account the microemulsion phase that forms in-situ when surfactant mixes with the oil. The modification of the classical theory to account for the effect of the microemulsion on the critical velocity for a stable displacement is one of the major contributions of this research. New experiments were done to test the modified theory and it was found to be in good agreement with these experiments. Furthermore, a new method to increase the stable velocity by optimizing the microemulsion viscosity was proposed and validated by a series of coreflood experiments designed and conducted for that specific purpose.