Enhanced Oil Recovery with Application of Enzymes

Alsu Khusainova

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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Enzymes have recently been reported as effective enhanced oil recovery (EOR) agents. Both laboratory and field tests demonstrated significant increase in the ultimate oil production. Up to16% of additional oil was produced in the laboratory conditions and up to 269 barrels of additional oil per day were recovered in the field applications. The following mechanisms were claimed to be responsible for the enhancement of the oil production due to enzymes: wettability improvement of the rock surface; formation of the emulsions; reduction of oil viscosity; and removal of high molecular weight paraffins. However, the positive effect of enzymes on oil recovery is not that obvious. In most of the studies commercial enzyme products composed of enzymes, surfactants and stabilisers were used. Application of such samples makes it difficult to assign a positive EOR effect to a certain compound, as several components of commercial mixture might possess surface-active properties. Hence, the main goals of the present study were to establish whether enzymes alone can improve oil production and to identify mechanisms that might underlie enzymatic EOR (EEOR), especially, under conditions of the North See petroleum reservoirs.
At the first stage of the work enzyme samples that might have potential for EOR applications were selected. Wettability tests such as measurements of contact angles and determination of adhesion behaviour were applied as screening tools. The group of lipases/esterases demonstrated strong ability to detach oil from the calcite surface and was identified as the most promising group for further investigations. Wettability improvement due to protein adsorption on to the mineral was proposed as the main mechanism for EEOR. It was also proved that the enzyme molecules themselves caused change of the wetting state of calcite, while presence of stabilising ingredients did not interfere the results.
Implementation of such a mechanism of enzymatic action under reservoir conditions might be limited by retention of the protein molecules in the porous medium. In order to verify this hypothesis, adsorption behaviour of enzymes/proteins on the reservoir rocks was studied by application of the static adhesion tests and adsorption experiments on powders, as well as of dynamic flow-through experiments. It was established that enzymes are indeed significantly lost during the transport in the porous media due to the irreversible adsorption. The adsorption capacity of carbonate material was found to be much higher compared to sandstone. Various methods (forexample, change of ionic strength and pH of the enzyme solution and displacing fluid) were applied in order to desorb attached protein molecules, but no desorption was observed.
Another possible mechanism that might underlie EEOR is formation of enzyme-stabilised emulsions. Similar to the wettability screening, lipases/esterases demonstrated the best surface active properties: they formed the most stable emulsions with rather small drops. Light fractions of the crude oil participated mostly in formation of the protein-stabilised emulsions. Incubation of the oil-[enzyme + sea water] systems was found to be important in order to obtain high stability of emulsions. Combined application of enzymes and solid particles was an alternative way to increase emulsion stability.
Other crude oil-brine interaction tests revealed additional problems that can rise during theapplication of enzymatic EOR. Interaction of the enzyme solution with the crude oil can induce gelation/emulsification of the propylene glycol (the main component of the enzyme productstabilisers). Moreover, when purified enzyme containing almost no stabilisers was used, a highly viscous oil-in-water emulsion was formed.
Finally, assessment of enzymes as EOR agents under conditions similar to the conditions of the petroleum reservoirs was carried out in core flooding experiments. Two types of enzymes(lipase and amylase) were selected based on the results from the wettability and emulsion studies.They were only tested in tertiary mode, employing various injection schemes. Application of enzymes in sandstone core samples resulted in increase of the ultimate oil production by 0.23-1.69% relative to original oil in place, while no additional oil due to enzymes was produced from chalk. Wettability change was confirmed to be the main EOR mechanism, while emulsification plays less significant role.
Overall, enzymes have possessed low potential for EOR applications at least in sandstone and chalk reservoirs containing light crude oils. An alternative technique that will shift adsorption balance towards reversible adsorption should be established in order to make enzymatic EOR aneffective and economically feasible oil recovery method.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKgs. Lyngby
PublisherTechnical University of Denmark
Number of pages114
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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