The objective of this work was to bring new insights on Polymer Adsorbed Layers (PAL) in porous media. Irreversible permeability reductions and irreversible polymer retention were firstly determined versus polymer molecular weight, flow velocity and brine salinity and hardness. The presence of PAL was then evidenced by small angle neutrons scattering (SANS). This allowed proposing interpretations of permeability reduction in terms of PAL thickness and density.
This study focused on the adsorption of partially hydrolyzed polyacrylamide (HPAM) polymers on granular packs of silicon carbide (SiC). Polymer solutions were injected at fixed flow rate and concentration. Irreversible permeability reductions (Rk) were determined from changes in pressure drops and irreversible polymer retention (Г) from the difference of volume at breakthrough for two successive slugs. In-situ SANS experiments were performed under flow using the contrast matching technique: the pore space was filled with an H2O/D2O mixture with a scattering length density equal to that of the SiC. This resulted in a two-phase system whose scattering intensity was directly connected to the PAL (meso)structure.
Results showed an increase of Rk and of Г with salinity (0.2 to 80 g/L, with a stabilization trend towards high salinities) and molecular weight. When hardness was increased, Rk was not much affected but Г increased. The SANS experiments revealed a scattered intensity vs. wave vector q typical of PAL with self-similar concentration profile. From these results, it was possible to determine PAL hydrodynamic thicknesses of adsorbed layers (εH) using the Rk values and according to a simple capillary bundle model. εH and Г values were then combined to estimate the PAL density. The impact of salinity could hence be interpreted in view of classical charge screening effect observed for solutions of polyelectrolytes. The impact of molecular weight was found qualitatively consistent with the increase in radius of gyration. Regarding the impact of hardness, stable εH and increased Г translated in an increase of the PAL density: this could be due to the creation of bridges between polymer charged monomers and divalent cations. As for the impact of flow velocity, increases of Rk and hence of εH was generally observed. Such behavior is consistent with a change of conformation of PAL, from coiled to stretched.
This work stand as the first direct experimental evidence of "irreversible" PAL in three-dimensional porous media under flow. It also represents a consistent set of results summarizing the impact on PAL of parameters that are particularly relevant for field operations. The results and corresponding interpretations are meant to be used in reservoir simulation softwares to improve the predictability and economics of polymer flooding EOR.