Growing interest in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) has generated renewed interest in surfactants for Chemical EOR (CEOR). While new developments typically build on past experiences of surfactant injections, academic and research institutes continue to propose new high-performance surfactant structures. Although these new molecules can easily be provided in sufficient quantities for laboratory tests and limited field trials, scale up to large commercial application could prove challenging. Moving to production on a large commercial scale will require the availability of raw materials and suitable production assets. In addition, regulatory compliance issues must be addressed, as must future supply chain efficiency.

This paper describes the development process for surfactants capable of attaining low interfacial tensions. It specifically addresses the impact of raw material availability and quality, production assets and regulatory compliance on a global basis.

Surfactant performance envelope data is presented as the first step to enable selection of potential candidate structures for given field conditions. The influence of the selected production assets for scale up to commercial quantities on the molecular composition of the final product is also illustrated. As will be seen, changes in the raw material feed and feed processes determine the poly dispersion of the resulting product. The impact of variations in chemical structure and total product composition manifest themselves in the product performance envelope. We show how small changes in composition not only impact performance, but also affect regulatory compliance and the corresponding supply chain processes.

A holistic approach to surfactant development, which considers the full process from product concept to commercial large-scale production, is essential to make CEOR successful. The development process must consider the sustainability of the proposed structures and processes required to make them. Here we will demonstrate why design for future growth in demand must be built in from day one of the product concept.

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