Surfactants are important components in fracturing fluids for helping ensure higher productivity from unconventional reservoirs. Conventional wisdom suggests that surfactant mixtures generally exhibit better performance than individual surfactants. Additionally, the synergism between surfactants increases with the degree of charge difference. Some current commercial surfactants were formulated by mixing nonionic and anionic surfactants (Sn/a), but few were formulated by mixing cationic and anionic (Sa/c) surfactants because of the risk of precipitation or formulation instability.

This paper discusses binary mixtures of Sa/c surfactants prepared with different mole ratios to determine their synergisms; mixtures of nonionic/anionic (Sn/a) and nonionic/cationic (Sn/c) surfactants are also compared. Surface/interfacial properties [maximum surface excess concentration (Γmax), minimum molecular area (Amin), critical micelle concentrations (CMC), and Gibbs free energy (ΔG)] and interaction parameters (βm and βs) in both the mixed micelle and interface were quantified to demonstrate the synergistic effect between various surfactants. Additionally, the potential application of these mixtures for unconventional treatments was examined with regards to emulsion behavior and column-packed oil recovery testing.

The results for the Sa/c surfactant mixtures show that, compared to parent species, Γmax of the Sa/c system is approximately one order of magnitude higher (corresponding to one order of magnitude lower in Amin). The resultant CMC is approximately two orders of magnitude lower than the parent species, and the ΔG of Sa/c is more negative. Notably, the interaction parameters further indicate that strong synergism exists for the Sa/c system at various mole ratios in both mixed micelle and monolayers at the interface (with an optimized ratio at 2/3), while, for the Sn/a system, weak synergism was identified in the mixed micelle at the mole ratio of 3/2. No synergism was observed for the Sn/c system.

Additionally, phase behavior testing indicated that a weak emulsion was formed in the presence of the Sa/c using Eagle Ford crude oil. Column-flooding testing also revealed improved oil recovery of the Sa/c system compared to individual species. The synergistic effect between Sa/c surfactant mixtures, as well as the laboratory results of the emulsion behavior and oil recovery, suggests a new practice for applying Sa/c surfactant blends for unconventional applications.

You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.