Interfacial sciences in unconventional petroleum production: from fundamentals to applications
With the ever increasing demand for energy to meet the needs of growth in population and improvement in the living standards in particular in developing countries, the abundant unconventional oil reserves (about 70% of total world oil), such as heavy oil, oil/tar sands and shale oil, are playing an increasingly important role in securing global energy supply. Compared with the conventional reserves unconventional oil reserves are characterized by extremely high viscosity and density, combined with complex chemistry. As a result, petroleum production from unconventional oil reserves is much more difficult and costly with more serious environmental impacts. As a key underpinning science, understanding the interfacial phenomena involved in unconventional petroleum production, such as oil liberation from host rocks, oil–water emulsions and demulsification, is critical for developing novel processes to improve oil production while reducing GHG emission and other environmental impacts at a lower operating cost. In the past decade, significant efforts and advances have been made in applying the principles of interfacial sciences to better understand complex unconventional oil-systems, while many environmental and production challenges remain. In this critical review, the recent research findings and progress in the interfacial sciences related to unconventional petroleum production are critically reviewed. In particular, the chemistry of unconventional oils, liberation mechanisms of oil from host rocks and mechanisms of emulsion stability and destabilization in unconventional oil production systems are discussed in detail. This review also seeks to summarize the current state-of-the-art characterization techniques and brings forward the challenges and opportunities for future research in this important field of physical chemistry and petroleum.