In order to screen various chemical and microbial EOR methods for core-flooding experiments and potential field trials, a laboratory investigation of evaluating the effect of micro-emulsion on the reduction of interfacial tension (IFT) was recently carried out at CSIRO by using commercially available chemical and bio-surfactants. Environment friendly non-ionic, anionic surfactants and a biosurfactant (Bacillus subtilis) were used to create micro-emulsion in an oil-brine system. Stable micro-emulsion (ME) was achieved by proportionally mixing various alcohols with surfactants.
Twenty-four micro-emulsion samples with five different chemical combinations were prepared for screening. All samples were stirred to create a stable ME phase. The volume changes of the ME phase were monitored over two weeks and their density, viscosity, and IFT were measured. The size distribution of ME phases was also characterised using optical microscopy equipped with an UV light source.
The micro-emulsion created by co-surfactants were found to be quite effective in reducing the oil-brine IFT and oil viscosity, and achieved ultra low IFT under reservoir pressure and temperature. There appears to be a linear relationship between the size of micro-emulsion and IFT reduction. ME with small sizes results in more IFT reduction and achieve stable ME at high temperature and pressure. Compared with the IFT reduction from the surfactant or microbial metabolism, the reduction of IFT through stable ME can be several orders of magnitude larger and may thus achieve better enhanced oil recovery in suitable reservoir systems.