A Systematic Research on Spontaneous Imbibition of Surfactant Solutions for Low Permeability Sandstone Reservoirs


Surfactants, which possess ability to alter rock surface wettability and reduce interfacial tension (IFT), are effective additives for imbibition enhanced oil recovery (IEOR) in low sandstone permeability reservoirs. However, the imbibition efficiencies vary from different surfactants, and some surfactants even have a negative effect on IEOR. Thus, it is necessary to research optimum surfactants suitable for IEOR. Considering that the surfactant properties are closely related to its molecular structure, this study systematically investigated the static imbibition efficiencies of different surfactants based on molecular structures, which contain different surfactant types, ionic head groups, hydrophilicity, and carbon chain lengths. In addition, the imbibition performance of surfactant solutions with different IFTs were also researched. The imbibition tests were conducted with Amott cells at 80 °C, using Changqing low permeability outcrop sandstones. Subsequently, IFT tests, viscosity measurements, contact angle (CA) measurements, and zeta potential tests were conducted to explore the IEOR mechanisms of different surfactant solutions. The experimental results showed that the IEOR potential of different types of surfactants was: anionic > nonionic > brine > amphoteric > cationic. Sulfate anionic surfactants showed better ability of wettability alteration than sulfonate surfactants, and achieved the most imbibition efficiency. Increasing the hydrophilicity of surfactants by introducing the ethylene oxide (EO) groups to the surfactant structures was effective in enhancing wettability alteration ability of surfactants and improving imbibition recovery. Surfactants with longer carbon chain (C16 surfactants) enhanced more imbibition recovery than short carbon chain surfactants (C12 surfactants), which was mainly depending on better IFT reduction ability of C16 surfactants than C12 surfactants. Appropriate IFT reduction, such as 10−1 mN/m levels, which reduced the adhesion work, enhanced the gravity dominated imbibition and avoided too much capillary pressure reduction, was the most desirable for IEOR. Too low IFTs, such as less than 10−2 mN/m, were not suitable for IEOR, because the capillary pressure reduced greatly, resulting in the imbibition process mainly dominated by gravity. This study provides fundamental information about the selection and design of surfactants for IEOR in low sandstone permeability reservoirs.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Grant 51774309

Keywords and Phrases

Enhanced oil recovery; IFT reduction; Low permeability reservoirs; Surfactant imbibition; Wettability alteration

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Article - Journal

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© 2021 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2021