The use of polymeric scale inhibitors has been ubiquitously accepted by the oil and gas industry for many years. There are many benefits to the use of this type of chemistry that include aspects such as high performance, scale species selectivity, enhanced brine compatibility, favorable environmental properties and high thermal stability.

A very common way to manufacture polymeric scale inhibitors is via free radical polymerization. Here an initiator is used to propagate the generation of free radicals from a species, such as hydrogen peroxide. The initiator chemistry can be very varied and usually comprises different types of transition metal salts, hypophosphite or persulfate species. Different monomer units can be polymerized using different initiator and free radical species to yield the same polymer. However, subtle differences can result, including poly-dispersity, average molecular weight and different residual composition. The implications for the end user of the chemistry can be profound regarding performance differences in aspects such as detectability, compatibility, thermal stability and sometimes even scale inhibition and adsorption efficacy.

A case study has been presented where a very commonly used sulfonated copolymer species from four different sources was evaluated in a whole host of compatibility and performance tests. The different routes used different combinations of hydrogen peroxide and transition metal initiator or persulfate/hypophosphite combinations as the free radical source.

There were major differences seen in the compatibility of these products with different scale inhibitors and then in performance. The tests performed highlighted the differences that can occur between the different radical polymerization synthetic routes mentioned above.

The conclusions show that there are many benefits to being able to control the manufacturing process of scale inhibitor species in order to ensure the full composition is understood and can be quantified. The benefits to owning the supply chain are highlighted and lead to not only better control of quality and cost but, more importantly, to the overall risk reduction for the end user in the end use application.

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