• What is Surfactant Analysis?


What is Surfactant Analysis?

Aug 03 2022

While some surfactants are biodegradable and eco-friendly, others can have a severe impact on the health of ecosystems and communities. Surfactant analysis plays an important role in helping scientists track the impact of surfactants and protect living organisms and humans.

The role of surfactants

Used for both domestics and industrial applications, surfactants are abundant around the world. Their unique physicochemical properties make them ideal for a wide range of household products, including detergents and fabric softeners. Surfactants are also used extensively for industrial applications, ranging from enhanced oil recovery to pesticides manufacturing.

Surfactants are categorised into five key groups based on charge:

  • Anionic
  • Cationic
  • Non-ionic
  • Semi-polar
  • Amphoteric

Surfactants in the oil and gas sector

The oil and gas industry relies on surfactants to recover resources and increase yield. Over the past decade chemical enhanced oil recovery (EOR) has gained traction in the industry and helped companies unlock the full potential of drilling sites. Surfactant flooding is a widely used chemical EOR method that leverages multiple mechanisms to enhance yield. These mechanisms include:

  • Interfacial tension (IFT) reduction
  • Wettability alteration
  • Foam generation
  • Emulsification

Analysis techniques are used to select the right surfactants, based on unique reservoir and rock type characteristics. In a paper published in the journal ACS Omega, the authors explored the use of amphiphilic surfactants to promote the miscibility of CO2 and improve crude oil recovery rates. Surfactant analysis was fundamental to the research.

“The main mechanism of promoting the miscibility of CO2 - crude oil is to reduce the interfacial tension of the oil and gas phases, followed by increasing the volume expansion of crude oil and reducing the viscosity of crude oil,” reads the study.

“The results show that the oil displacement efficiency is significantly higher than that of pure CO2 flooding, and the pressure of miscibility reduces at the same time. The selected reagents have a good effect of promoting miscibility. Therefore, this is an effective method to improve the geological utilisation of CO2.”

Using surfactant analysis to meet global energy demand

With global energy demand predicted to increase by 30% in 2040 compared to 2010 levels, maximising yield is more important than ever. Studies suggest more than 50% of original oil in place (OOIP) remains trapped in reservoirs after primary and secondary recovery phases are completed. As outlined in the ACS Omega paper, surfactants help companies enhance oil displacement efficiency by influencing properties such as IFT and rock wettability.

The future of surfactant analysis

Analysts forecast the global market for surfactants will reach a value of more than US$52 billion by 2025. Demand for hand sanitisers spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic could see this figure climb even higher. As the market grows, demand for surfactant analysis techniques will also increase.

Chemical surfactants aren’t the only way to improve oil displacement efficiency. Find out more about alternative methods in ‘How Can 'Smart Water' Improve Oil Recovery?’. Or find out more about petrochemistry in general in the article, 'Latest Breakthroughs in Petrochemistry'

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