Surface Interaction of Water-in-Oil Emulsion Droplets with Interfacially Active Asphaltenes

Chen Shi, Ling Zhang, Lei Xie, Xi Lu, Qingxia Liu, Jiajun He, Cesar A. Mantilla, Frans G.A. Van Den Berg, Hongbo Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adsorption of interfacially active components at the water/oil interface plays critical roles in determining the properties and behaviors of emulsion droplets. In this study, the droplet probe atomic force microscopy (AFM) technique was applied, for the first time, to quantitatively study the interaction mechanism between water-in-oil (W/O) emulsion droplets with interfacially adsorbed asphaltenes. The behaviors and stability of W/O emulsion droplets were demonstrated to be significantly influenced by the asphaltene concentration of organic solution where the emulsions were aged, aging time, force load, contact time, and solvent type. Bare water droplets could readily coalesce with each other in oil (i.e., toluene), while interfacially adsorbed asphaltenes could sterically inhibit droplet coalescence and induce interfacial adhesion during separation of the water droplets. For low asphaltene concentration cases, the adhesion increased with increasing asphaltene concentration (≤100 mg/L), but it significantly decreased at relatively high asphaltene concentration (e.g., 500 mg/L). Experiments in Heptol (i.e., mixture of toluene and heptane) showed that the addition of a poor solvent for asphaltenes (e.g., heptane) could enhance the interfacial adhesion between emulsion droplets at relatively low asphaltene concentration but could weaken the adhesion at relatively high asphaltene concentration. This work has quantified the interactions between W/O emulsion droplets with interfacially adsorbed asphaltenes, and the results provide useful implications into the stabilization mechanisms of W/O emulsions in oil production. The methodology in this work can be readily extended to other W/O emulsion systems with interfacially active components.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1265-1274
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 7 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry

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