Destabilization of petroleum asphaltenes may cause a multitude of problems in crude oil recovery and production. One major problem is their agglomeration at the water-oil interface of crude oil emulsions. Once agglomeration occurs, destabilized asphaltenes can form a thick pad in the dehydration equipment, which significantly reduces the demulsification rate.

Certain polymeric dispersants increase asphaltene solubilization in hydrocarbon media, and when used in conjunction with emulsion breakers, facilitate the demulsification process. Two case studies are presented that demonstrate how asphaltene dispersants can efficiently inhibit pad formation and help reduce demulsifier dosage. Criteria for dispersant application and selection are discussed, which include the application of a novel laboratory technique to assess asphaltene stabilization in the crude oil. The technique monitors asphaltene agglomeration while undergoing titration with an incompatible solvent (precipitant). The method was used to evaluate stabilization of asphaltenes in the crude oil and to screen asphaltene dispersants.

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