Everyone in the petrochemical industry knows that oil and water do not mix, but they often occur together. Water, usually salt water, is a common contaminant of crude oil. The suspended oil in the water prevents it from coming back into the environment. The separation of oil and water is the function of an emulsion breaker, also known as a demulsifier.
What does an emulsion breaker do?
Emulsion breakers can be understood as droppers, treaters or a hybrid of the two types. Droppers are generally low molecular weight non-polymeric compounds. They cause relatively large water droplets to aggregate. This action releases water, especially salt water, from heavy crude oil. Treaters are typically high-molecular weight polymers with a water-attractive, hydrophilic tip. These compounds change the surface tension of an oil and water mixture so that micron-sized droplets of water “gather” at the base of the crude oil column. As the oil at the top of the column dehydrates, it becomes noticeably lighter in color. Hybrid compounds are specialized chemicals that take on the characteristics of both droppers and treaters for special applications, such as emulsion breakers for crude oil mixed with large amounts of salt water.
Types of Emulsion Breakers
Thousands of chemical compounds can serve as emulsion breakers. There are deoiler, deoiler and deheiser. There are products for high concentrations of saltwater (more than 40 percent) and for low concentrations of saltwater (less than 40 percent). There are products designed to work at low temperatures (below 30 °C) and high temperatures (greater than 80 °C). There are demulsifiers for light crude, heavy crude and waste oil. Some emulsion breakers are designed for “green” applications. These demulsifiers are unique formulations that:
- Shown to be naturally biodegradable under government approved testing methods,
- display low aquatic toxicity,
- do not store biomass, and
- Achieve Green Profile without compromising on performance.
What difference does an emulsion breaker make in crude oil production? They make crude oil less viscous so it is easier to pump. They allow offshore producers to return salt water safely and directly to the ocean. And emulsion breakers are essential for recovery from offshore oil spills. However, different applications require very different emulsion breakers.
Differences in output require separate emulsion breakers
Crude or slop oils are very stable emulsions. These contain water droplets that can be measured in microns. The process of releasing oil from the rock often requires the addition of beeswax, paraffin, fatty acids, asphaltene and resins to the crude oil which make the emulsion even more stable. Different rock formations require different chemicals in different amounts. If the saltwater and oil emulsion is not demulsified, the mixture can cause serious fouling and corrosion problems in reboilers, heat exchangers and distillation columns. Sometimes timing is the key element in choosing an oil and gas emulsion breaker. A product may be less expensive but remove salt water more slowly, relying more on gravity to do its job. Another product may be more expensive but may complete separation quickly to accommodate production schedules. Sometimes purity is the key element in choosing an emulsion breaker. By tightening their tolerances for the percentage of water in crude oil, engineers can take special care to prevent equipment failure. A slightly different emulsion breaker would be needed to get a slightly different product. And normal production of crude oil results in variations in solids (BS&W or Basics, sediment and water) that require constant adjustments in the choice of demulsifying agent.
Emulsion breakers are special chemicals that require special expertise
Berryman Chemical Inc. Ltd. has over four decades of experience in developing oil and gas emulsion breakers that exactly match the needs of the customers. These products provide the desired purity of the product with high reliability. With an industry-leading network of terminals strategically located throughout the US, Berryman moves products via rail cars, trucks, ships and ships at low cost. We can handle your supply needs from production to delivery straight to your site. We can provide you with any level of logistic and regulatory support in between. Every oil field is different. Berryman has the know-how and inventory to create tailor-made formulations to deliver the benefits of our technologies at the optimum cost to each end user. Contact us to request a standard or customized chemical solution.