Emulsifying Agent

Definition - What does Emulsifying Agent mean?

Emulsifying Agent is a substance used to enable oil in water or water in oil to be uniformly dispersed as an emulsion. An emulsion can be defined as the dispersion of one immiscible liquid in another liquid. At the production site, crude oil is produced along with water and is called produced oilfield emulsion. The quantity of water that emulsifies with crude oil varies widely and ranges from less than 1% or could be more than 80% at times.

Petropedia explains Emulsifying Agent

When crude oil is produced from a reservoir, it is generally produced as a mixture of oil and water and thus, the droplets of water forms on the crude oil. This water needs to be removed in order to make crude oil suitable for sale and maximize the yield of petroleum products. The water is removed, treated and disposed of properly as per environmental laws. The use of emulsifying agents is to make the oilfield emulsion stable and gather finely divided solids and surface active agents in water-in-oil emulsion around the droplets. An emulsifying agent has a lipophilic part as well as a hydrophilic part in their chemical structure that helps them to concentrate and get absorbed in the water-in-oil type emulsions and forms a protective layer around the dispersed droplets thereby reducing the interfacial tension of the system. Emulsifying agents also reduce physical contact between the droplets and thus decrease coalescence.

Some commonly used emulsifying agents in the industry are; sodium lauryl sulfate, polymers such as spans and tweens, sodium dioctyl sulfosuccinate, etc.

Emulsifying agents are classified based on:

  • Chemical structure such as natural agents, synthetic agents, auxiliary agents or finely dispersed solids.
  • Mechanism of action such as multi-molecular, mono-molecular and solid particle film.
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