Dynamic Asphaltene-Stearic Acid Competition at the Oil–Water Interface

Interfacial tension (IFT) is one of the major parameters which govern the fluid flow in oil production and recovery. This paper investigates the interfacial activity of different natural surfactants found in crude oil. The main objective was to better understand the competition between carboxylic acids and asphaltenes on toluene/water interfaces. Dynamic IFT was measured for water-in-oil pendant drops contrary to most studies using oil-in-water drops. Stearic acid (SA) was used as model compound for surface-active carboxylic acids in crude. The influence of concentration of these species on dynamic IFT between model oil and deionized water was examined. The acid concentrations were of realistic values (total acid number 0.1 to 2 mg KOH/g oil) while asphaltene concentrations were low and set between 10 and 100 ppm. In mixtures, the initial surface pressure was entirely determined by the SA content while asphaltenes showed a slow initial diffusion to the interface followed by increased adsorption at longer times. The final surface pressure was higher for asphaltenes compared to SA, but for binaries, the final surface pressure was always lower than the sum of the individuals. At high SA concentration, surface pressures of mixtures were dominated entirely by the SA, although, Langmuir isotherm analysis shows that asphaltenes bind to the interface 200–250 times stronger than SA. The surface area/molecule for both SA and asphaltenes were found to be larger than the values reported in recent literature. Various approaches to dynamic surface adsorption were tested, showing that apparent diffusivity of asphaltenes is very low, in agreement with other works. Hence, the adsorption is apparently under barrier control. A possible hypothesis is that at the initial phase of the experiment and at lower concentration of asphaltenes, the interface is occupied by stearic acid molecules forming a dense layer of hydrocarbon chains that may repel the asphaltenes.