Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques involving surfactants such as surfactant floods, foam floods, and wettability alteration have been studied to recover remaining oil after primary and secondary floods. In these processes, a surfactant solution is injected to promote one (or more) of the following: lowering of capillary forces, improvement in sweep efficiency, and wettability alteration. Although significant advances have been made in designing surfactant molecules to achieve the above mentioned objectives efficiently, surfactant price is often the key limiting factor for a field-scale operation. Most surfactant molecules have a hydrocarbon chain (for example alkyl chain) or an aromatic ring as the main hydrophobe. The hydrocarbon chain (or ring) imparts hydrophobicity (and surface activity) to the surfactant molecule. However, these hydrophobes also result in additional cost. In this study, we discuss low-cost surfactants developed without hydrocarbon chains (or rings) for chemical EOR processes in general. The focus of this paper, however, is on their application in surfactant floods. These novel surfactants were developed by using methanol as the starting material, followed by the addition of propylene oxide (PO) and ethylene oxide (EO) groups, and an anionic head group. The surface tension and critical micelle concentration (CMC) values of these surfactants were measured. A screening study was performed to identify promising candidates; which showed ultralow interfacial tension (IFT) with various crude oils as well as aqueous stability at reservoir conditions. A comparison between novel surfactants with traditional surfactants was made based on the screening study. Oil recovery corefloods were performed in Berea and Boise sandstone cores to test the ultralow IFT formulations. These surfactants were found to have very low CMC values, and lowered the surface tension to about 32 dynes/cm. Their aqueous stability at a given temperature was found to be dependent on the number of PO and EO groups. Phase behavior experiments showed low IFT formulations with different crude oils by using these surfactants by themselves as well as in combination with internal olefin sulfonates (IOS). Moderate oil recoveries were obtained in coreflood experiments using these surfactants.

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