Unwanted emulsions of (crude) oil and water are frequently encountered during oil production across the world including in Western Australia, which is now Australia’s main liquid fuel provider.
Such emulsions add significantly to operating (e.g. pumping) and capital (e.g. processing vessel size) costs, accentuate corrosion and generally adversely affect product quality. Essential to processes that break such emulsions (i.e. separate the water and oil phases) is real-time measurement of the emulsion droplet-size distribution. Using our unique Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) instrumentation for on-line emulsion droplet sizing, our aim is to develop cheap and robust methods including: oil-water gravity separation units with the inclusion of a water recycle for emulsion inversion (crude oil-in-water emulsions are much easier to break than water-in-crude oil emulsions); extraction of naturally occurring resins from crude oil that have been proven to significantly reduce emulsion strength; and use of carbon dioxide for emulsion droplet disruption and encouraged coalescence.