Solvent Aided-Steam Flooding (SA-SF) focuses on maximizing the oil production by reducing the economic and environmental challenges created by steam generation. However, the solvent selection is vital due to the interaction of solvents with asphaltenes. Moreover, the polar nature of asphaltenes also enables asphaltene-steam interaction which may result in emulsion formation. This study investigates solvent-asphaltene-steam interaction during SA-SF with low and high molecular weight asphaltene insoluble solvents.
Two different solvents were tested; n-hexane (E1 and E4) and a commercial solvent (CS) (E2 and E5) with four flooding experiments; two miscible flooding (E1 and E2) and two SA-SF (E4 and E5) experiments. Results were compared with steam flooding (E3) experiment. The performance evaluation of different enhanced oil recovery methods was accomplished by comparing the oil recovery rates. The asphaltene content of produced oil samples was determined by standard methods. The asphaltene-steam interaction was analyzed with microscopic images, and the water content of produced oil samples was measured by Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA).
Even though similar cumulative oil productions were obtained by the end of E1 (n-hexane-flooding) and E2 (CS-flooding), the produced oil quality varied due to asphaltene and clay contents. While higher clay content was measured for E1, E2 had a lower quality, due to higher asphaltene contents. This finding is due to the heavy dearomatized hydrocarbons composition of the CS which ranges from C11 up to C16 and enables more asphaltene production. Even though, E5 yielded the highest liquid production among all experiments; the produced liquid was composed of emulsified oil. The solvent aided-steam flooding (SA-SF) experimental results, which have been conducted with n-hexane/steam (E4) and CS/steam (E5) injections, suggest that as the asphaltene content increases in produced oil samples, more hard-to-break emulsions are formed. The unusual stability of these emulsions can be attributed to the nature of the asphaltene present in the produced oil.
From the results presented, it is recommended the use of lower carbon number solvents to leave the larger amounts of asphaltenes in the reservoirs. The solvents differed in their interactions with the asphaltenes present in the oil and with the steam that has a direct impact not only on the quantity of oil produced but the quality as well. Hence, the wise selection of the appropriate solvent cannot be ignored during solvent aided-steam flooding processes.