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Volume 144, 2010
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Multi-scale simulation of asphaltene aggregation and deposition in capillary flow

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Asphaltenes are known as the ‘cholesterol’ of crude oil. They form nano-aggregates, precipitate, adhere to surfaces, block rock pores and may alter the wetting characteristics of mineral surfaces within the reservoir, hindering oil recovery efficiency. Despite a significant research effort, the structure, aggregation and deposition of asphaltenes under flowing conditions remain poorly understood. For this reason, we have investigated asphaltenes, their aggregation and their deposition in capillary flow using multi-scale simulations and experiments. At the colloid scale, we use a hybrid simulation approach: for the solvent, we used the stochastic rotation dynamics (also known as multi particle collision dynamics) simulation method, which provides both hydrodynamics and Brownian motion. This is coupled to a coarse-grained MD approach for the asphaltene colloids. The colloids interact through a screened Coulomb potential with varying well depth ε. We tune the flow rate to obtain Peflow ≫ 1 (hydrodynamic interactions dominate) and Re ≪ 1 (Stokes flow). Imposing a constant pressure drop over the capillary length, we observe that the transient solvent flow rate decreases with increasing well depth ε. The interactions between the mesoscopic asphaltene colloids can be related to atomistic MD simulations. Molecular structures for the atomistic calculations were obtained using the quantitative molecular representation approach. Using these structures, we calculate the potential of mean force (PMF) between pairs of asphaltene molecules in an explicit solvent. We obtain a reasonable fit using a −1/r2 attraction for the attractive tail of the PMF at intermediate distances. We speculate that this is due to the two-dimensional nature of the asphaltene molecules. Finally, we discuss how we can relate this interaction to the mesoscopic colloid aggregate interaction. We assume that the colloidal aggregates consist of nano-aggregates. Taking into account observed solvent entrainment effects, we deduct the presence of lubrication layers between the nano-aggregates, which leads to a significant screening of the direct asphaltene–asphaltene interactions.

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Publication details

The article was received on 03 Feb 2009, accepted on 12 Mar 2009 and first published on 26 Aug 2009

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/B902305B
Faraday Discuss., 2010,144, 271-284

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    Multi-scale simulation of asphaltene aggregation and deposition in capillary flow

    E. S. Boek, T. F. Headen and J. T. Padding, Faraday Discuss., 2010, 144, 271
    DOI: 10.1039/B902305B

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