Chemical Engineering Science, Vol.61, No.18, 6016-6028, 2006
The viscoplastic properties of crude oil-water interfaces
The breaking of water-in-crude oil emulsions is a major challenge in the conventional petroleum industry, while oil-in-water emulsions present similar issues in commercial oilsands extraction processes. The stability of these emulsions can be attributed to complex theological properties of the crude oil-water interface. Novel micromechanical techniques are developed that allow direct measurements of interfacial behaviour of emulsion drops. In these techniques, individual emulsion drops are elongated using micropipettes, where one micropipette is shaped into a cantilever for force measurements. As such, the surface behaviour of a drop is recorded in stress-strain experiments. In an alternative technique, the extended drop is released from a micropipette, and its natural, tension-driven relaxation is observed. The surface behaviour of bitumen (a heavy crude oil) emulsion drops in aqueous environments, that include dissolved calcium ions and suspended montmorillonite clays, is studied. The plasticity and other surface properties of these bitumen drops are discussed. A simple, lumped-parameter model is developed to describe the recovery of a bitumen drops to their final non-spherical shapes. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.