Paraffin wax deposits are known to be a worldwide problem in the upstream petroleum industry. Considerable resources are expended on inhibiting or removing wax deposits every year. Paraffin wax is not the only type of crude oil based wax. Microcrystalline waxes, composed of naphthene and iso-paraffin molecules, also exist but are not well studied. The predominance of paraffin (also called macrocrystalline) wax and paraffin wax inhibition techniques will likely lead to paraffin wax treatments being applied to naphthene based reservoirs. It is unclear how well a paraffin based treatment will apply to naphthene based oil.
The current study investigates the use of Cross-Polarized Microscopy (CPM) to determine if a crude oil contains macrocrystalline or microcrystalline waxes. CPM can determine the size and morphology of wax crystals because crude oil wax crystals are known to be anisotropic. Macrocrystalline waxes are known to present with larger, elongated structures while microcrystalline waxes present with smaller, rounded structures. The type of wax present in the crude oil can be determined using crystal morphology and size. Knowing which type of wax is present in the oil will help to choose which type of wax inhibitor will be used. This study has shown that CPM can be an effective tool to determine the type of wax present in a crude oil. Paraffin wax crystals are shown as being elongated structures with statistically larger sizes than the microcrystals. Microcrystalline waxes are shown to be statistically smaller and rounded structures. CPM is a simple, cost-effective method that can be used in addition to standard tests to determine if a crude oil is paraffin or naphthene based. In the future this test can be used to prevent paraffin wax treatments being applied to naphthene based reservoirs and to help optimize the specific inhibitor chosen.