On the use of nanomechanical atomic force microscopy to characterise oil-exposed surfaces
Oil-exposed surfaces are susceptible to carbonaceous deposits (CDs). In turn, deposits are responsible for fouling, compromising performance and reducing profitability across the hydrocarbon value chain. An understanding of the deposition behaviour of these organic molecules is therefore imperative. In this paper we address the question of understanding the deposition in upstream operation, where the CDs are known to be asphaltenes, the heaviest fraction of oil. Systematic characterisation of fouled oil-exposed surfaces constitutes an initial step towards that direction and it is a challenging task in itself. We demonstrate the use of Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to map surface mechanical properties and how they can be used to determine differences between deposit types. We also demonstrate that the use of an adhesion inhibitor (AI) has a dramatic effect not only on the morphology but also on the mechanical properties of asphaltene deposits.