The immense nanotechnology advances in other industries provided opportunities to rapidly develop various applications of nanoparticles in the oil and gas industry. In particular, nanoparticle has shown its capability to improve the emulsion stability by generating so-called Pickering emulsion, which is expected to improve EOR processes with better conformance control. Recent studies showed a significant synergy between nanoparticles and very low concentration of surfactant, in generating highly stable emulsions. This study's focus is to exploit the synergy's benefit in employing such emulsions for improved mobility control, especially under high-salinity conditions.

Hydrophilic silica nanoparticles were employed to quantify the synergy of nanoparticle and surfactant in oil-in-brine emulsion formation. The nanoparticle and/or the selected surfactant in aqueous phase and decane were co-injected into a sandpack column to generate oil-in-brine emulsions. Four different surfactants (cationic, nonionic, zwitterionic, and anionic) were examined, and the emulsion stability was analyzed using microscope and rheometer.

Strong and stable emulsions were successfully generated in the combinations of either cationic or nonionic surfactant with nanoparticles, while the nanoparticles and the surfactant by themselves were unable to generate stable emulsions. The synergy was most significant with the cationic surfactant, while the anionic surfactant was least effective, indicating the electrostatic interactions with surfactant and liquid/liquid interface as a decisive factor. With the zwitterionic surfactant, the synergy effect was not as great as the cationic surfactant. The synergy was greater with the nonionic surfactant than the zwitterionic surfactant, implying that the surfactant adsorption at oil-brine interface can be increased by hydrogen bonding between surfactant and nanoparticle when the electrostatic repulsion is no longer effective.

In generating highly stable emulsions for improved control for adverse-mobility waterflooding in harsh-condition reservoirs, we show a procedure to find the optimum choice of surfactant and its concentration to effectively and efficiently generate the nanoparticle-stabilized emulsion exploiting their synergy. The findings in this study propose a way to maximize the beneficial use of nanoparticle-stabilized emulsions for EOR at minimum cost for nanoparticle and surfactant.

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