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Behavior of Asphaltene Model Compounds at W/O Interfaces

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journal contribution
posted on 16.02.2010, 00:00 by Erland L. Nordgård, Geir Sørland, Johan Sjöblom
Asphaltenes, present in significant amounts in heavy crude oil, contains subfractions capable of stabilizing water-in-oil emulsions. Still, the composition of these subfractions is not known in detail, and the actual mechanism behind emulsion stability is dependent on perceived interfacial concentrations and compositions. This study aims at utilizing polyaromatic surfactants which contains an acidic moiety as model compounds for the surface-active subfraction of asphaltenes. A modified pulse-field gradient (PFG) NMR method has been used to study droplet sizes and stability of emulsions prepared with asphaltene model compounds. The method has been compared to the standard microscopy droplet counting method. Arithmetic and volumetric mean droplet sizes as a function of surfactant concentration and water content clearly showed that the interfacial area was dependent on the available surfactant at the emulsion interface. Adsorption of the model compounds onto hydrophilic silica has been investigated by UV depletion, and minor differences in the chemical structure of the model compounds caused significant differences in the affinity toward this highly polar surface. The cross-sectional areas obtained have been compared to areas from the surface-to-volume ratio found by NMR and gave similar results for one of the two model compounds. The mean molecular area for this compound suggested a tilted geometry of the aromatic core with respect to the interface, which has also been proposed for real asphaltenic samples. The film behavior was further investigated using a liquid−liquid Langmuir trough supporting the ability to form stable interfacial films. This study supports that acidic, or strong hydrogen-bonding fractions, can promote stable water-in-oil emulsion. The use of model compounds opens up for studying emulsion behavior and demulsifier efficiency based on true interfacial concentrations rather than perceived interfaces.

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