Emulsions in external electric fields
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionAdvances in Colloid and Interface Science. 2021, 291, . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cis.2021.102455
Water is co-produced with crude oils, generally in the form of water-in-crude oil emulsions. The oil and water phases need to be separated before export. Separation is performed in gravity separators with the addition of chemical demulsifiers and, sometimes, with the application of an electric field by using an electrocoalescer. The present article reviews several aspects of electrocoalescence by considering the effect of the electric field from the molecular to a macroscopic scale: the oil-water interface, single drop effects, two drop interactions, and finally emulsions at laboratory scales. Experimental results together with Dissipative Particle Dynamics (DPD) simulation results are presented. The review begins with water-oil interface under an electric field and followed by single drop electrohydrodynamics. The electric field is shown to influence the adsorption of crude oil indigenous surface-active components (asphaltenes) due to the electrohydrodynamic (EHD) flows. The interactions between two droplets in the presence of electric field and the factors governing the drop-drop coalescence are discussed in detail. DPD simulations help to elucidate thin film breakup during (electro)-coalescence of two water droplets, where the oil film has drained out to nanometer thickness. The film is comprised of surfactant and demulsifier molecules, and the simulations capture the pores formation in the film when a DC field is applied. The results demonstrate influence of the molecular structure of the surfactant and demulsifier, and their interactions. The subsequent section describes experimental techniques to assess the resolution of crude oil emulsions at the laboratory scale. The focus is on low-field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (LF-NMR) which allows a determination of various emulsion features such as the droplet size distribution (DSD) and the brine profile (variation of the concentration of water with the height of the emulsion sample) and their evolution with time. Application of the technique in emulsion treatment involving chemical demulsifiers and electric field is presented. The review concludes with description of commercial industrial electrocoalecers such as the Vessel Internal Electrostatic Coalescer (VIEC) and the Compact Electrostatic Coalescer (CEC).