Development of a novel EOR surfactant and design of an alkaline/surfactant/polymer field pilot




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Surfactant related recovery processes are of increasing interest and importance because of high oil prices and the urge to meet energy demand. High oil prices and the accompanying revival of EOR operations have provided academia and industry with great opportunities to test alkaline surfactant polymer (ASP) methods on a field scale and to develop novel surfactant systems that can improve the performance of such EOR processes. This dissertation intends to discuss both opportunities through two unique projects, the development of novel surfactants for EOR applications and the design for an alkaline/surfactant/polymer (ASP) field pilot. In Section I of this dissertation, a novel series of anionic Gemini surfactants are carefully synthesized and systematically investigated. The remarkable abilities of Gemini surfactants to influence oil-water interfaces and aqueous solution properties are fully demonstrated. These surfactants are shown to have great potential for application in EOR processes. A wide range of Gemini structures (C₁₄ to C₂₄ chain length, -C2- and -C4- spacers, sulfate and carboxylate head groups) was synthesized and shown to have high aqueous solubility, with Krafft points below 20°C. The critical micelle concentrations (CMC) for these new molecules are measured to be orders of magnitude lower than their conventional counterparts. The significantly more negative Gibbs free energy for Gemini surfactant drives the micellization process and results in ultralow CMC. An adsorption study of Gemini surfactants at air-water and solid-water interfaces shows their superior surface activity from tighter molecular packing, and attractive characteristics of low adsorption loss at the solid surface. All anionic Gemini surfactants synthesized have an extraordinary tolerance to salinity and/or hardness. No phase separation or precipitation occurs in the aqueous stability tests, even in the presence of extremely high concentrations of mono- and/or di-valent ions. Moreover, ultra-low IFT values are reached under these conditions for Type I microemulsion systems, at very low surfactant concentrations. The stronger molecular interaction between the Gemini and conventional surfactants offers synergy that promotes aqueous stability and interfacial activity. Gemini molecules with short spacers are capable of giving rise to high viscosities at fairly low concentrations. The rheological behavior can be explained by changes in the micellar structure. A molecular thermodynamic model is developed to study anionic Gemini surfactants aggregation behavior in solution. The model takes into account of the head group-counter-ion binding effect and utilizes two simplified solutions to the Poisson-Boltzmann equation. It properly predicts the CMC of the surfactants synthesized and can be easily expanded to investigate other factors of interest in the micellization process. Section II of this dissertation studies chemical formulation design and implementation for an oilfield where an alkaline/surfactant/polymer (ASP) pilot is being carried out. A four-step systematic design approach, composed of a) process and material selection; b) formulation optimization; c) coreflood validation; 4) lab-scale simulation, was successfully implemented and could be easily transferred to other EOR projects. The optimal chemical formulation recovered over 90% residual oil from Berea coreflood. Lab-scale simulation model accurately history matches the coreflood experiment and sets the foundation for pilot-scale numerical study. Different operating strategies are investigated using a pilot-scale model, as well as the sensitivities of project economics to various design parameters. A field execution plan is proposed based on the results of the simulation study. A surface facility conceptual design is put together based on the practical needs and conditions in the field. Key lessons learned throughout the project are summarized and are invaluable for planning and designing future pilot floods.