Steam injection is currently the most widespread method for heavy oil recovery. However, a serious limitation of this method is its energy cost due to heat losses in the reservoir. Steam foams can be used to increase the apparent viscosity of steam. Such an improvement of steam mobility control optimizes the heat distribution in the reservoir and reduces the impact of reservoir heterogeneities in order to raise oil recovery.

Optimized formulations are required to generate stable steam foams in reservoir conditions. This paper presents an original workflow to design efficient combinations of surfactants for steam foam stabilization. The first step is the selection of surfactants demonstrating a good chemical stability at steam temperature, together with a good solubility. The second step consists in evaluating foam stability of these formulations at high pressure and temperature.

We study the thermal stability of surfactants using anaerobic screening tests at high temperature. The chemical structure of surfactants is evaluated through quantitative NMR analysis before and after thermal treatment in various conditions (temperatures from 150 to 250°C and durations from 24h to a week). Generated data permit a better understanding of surfactants degradation mechanisms. A customized high pressure/high temperature sapphire view cell is used to investigate the impact of high temperature on the solubility of formulations and to generate foams in reservoir conditions of pressure and temperature. A custom image processing routine is used to measure foam volume as a function of time, in order to evaluate foam stability and rank formulations.

We demonstrate the thermal stability of specific surfactants up to 240°C in anaerobic conditions. A strong influence of temperature on foam stability is observed. Our experiments serve as a baseline to design new formulations giving much longer foam stability at 185°C than benchmarks based on alpha olefin sulfonate (AOS) and alkyl aryl sulfonate (AAS). This paper thus aims at providing new insights on steam foam applications with the development of a dedicated surfactant selection workflow and the characterization of new steam foam formulations with improved performances.

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