Wang, Zhihua (Northeast Petroleum University) | Zhu, Chaoliang (Northeast Petroleum University) | Lou, Yuhua (PetroChina Daqing Oilfield Engineering Company Limited) | Cheng, Qinglin (Northeast Petroleum University) | Liu, Yang (Northeast Petroleum University) | Wang, Xinyu (PetroChina Daqing Oilfield Company Limited)
Wax crystals can aggregate and precipitate when the oil temperature decreases to below the wax appearance temperature (WAT) of waxy crude oil, which has undesirable effects on the transportation of crude oil in pipelines. Thermodynamic models considering the molecular diffusion, shearing dispersion, and shear stripping as well as hydrodynamic models have been developed for predicting the wax deposition in crude oil pipelines. However, the aggregation behavior of wax crystals during crude oil production and transportation is not well understood. The microscopic rheological parameters have not been related to the bulk flow parameters in the shearing field, and the prediction of the wax deposition behavior under complex conditions is restricted by the vector characteristics of the shearing stress and flow rate. A set of microscopic experiments was performed in this study to obtain the basic information from images of wax crystals in shearing fields. A novel method of fractal dimensional analysis was introduced to elucidate the aggregation behavior of wax crystals in different shear flow fields. The fractal methodology for characterizing wax crystal aggregation was then developed, and a blanket algorithm was introduced to compute the fractal dimension of the aggregated wax crystals. The flow characteristics of waxy crude oil in a pipeline were correlated with the shearing stress work, and a wax deposition model focusing on shearing energy analysis was established. The results indicate that a quantitative interpretation of the wax crystal aggregation behavior can be realized using the fractal methodology. The aggregation behavior of the wax crystals is closely related to the temperature and shearing experienced by the waxy crude oil. The aggregation behavior will be intensified with decreasing temperature and shearing effect, and a wider fractal dimension distribution appears at lower temperatures when the same shear rate range is employed. The lower the fractal dimensions obtained at high temperature and strong shear action, the weaker will be the nonlinear characteristics of the wax crystal aggregation structure, and thus, the potential wax deposition will be inhibited during waxy crude oil production and transportation. Furthermore, the improved model provides a method for discussing the effects of the operating conditions on wax deposition. The average relative deviation between the improved model prediction results and experimental results from the literature is 3.01%–5.32%. The fractal methodology developed in this study and the improvement in wax deposition modeling are beneficial for understanding and optimizing flow assurance operations in the pipeline transportation of waxy crude oils, and the results are expected to facilitate a better understanding of the wax crystallization and deposition mechanism.