In-Situ Visualization of Imbibition Process Using a Fracture-Matrix Micromodel: Effect of Surfactant Formulations toward Nanoemulsion and Microemulsion

Bing Wei, Qinzhi Li, Weipeng Yang, Yiwen Wang, Jun Lu, Jinyu Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Spontaneous imbibition can help to improve the oil recovery of unconventional reservoirs owing to the significant capillarity. Although the dependence of imbibition dynamics of surfactants on wettability and interfacial tension (IFT) is understood, the mechanisms of nanoemulsion and microemulsion forming surfactants for higher imbibition recovery are not as clear. Herein, we conducted a series of imbibition experiments on a visual fracture-matrix micromodel, aiming to directly observe the imbibition processes of these surfactant formulations. Four surfactant-based fluids, including a common surfactant [fatty alcohol polyoxyethylene ether, sodium sulfate (AES)], a surfactant composition of nanoemulsion (nE-S), an ex-situ nanoemulsion (nE), and a situ microemulsion forming surfactant (mE-FS), were designed and used in this work for comparison with brine. The results suggested that AES, nE-S, nE, and mE-FS could substantially stimulate the imbibition invasion, and mE-FS generated the greatest imbibition depth and sweeping area followed by nE. The imbibition dynamics were governed by the interfacial interactions among oil, aqueous phase, and solid surface, leading to different imbibition patterns for these five fluids. AES and nE-S could reduce the oil-Aqueous IFT to 10-1 mN/m and alter the wettability to a weak water-wet state as a result of surfactant adsorption, leading to a slightly higher imbibition invasion compared with brine. AES imbibition produced large oil droplets mainly because of the snap-off effect at the nozzle to the fracture, whereas nE-S produced smaller oil droplets due to the weak in-situ emulsification. nE as a formed nanoemulsion with an internal oil phase demonstrated a lower IFT of 10-2 mN/m and superior capacity in changing surface wettability mainly through the adsorption and spreading of nanosized oil droplets on the surface. The oil phase was heavily emulsified forming dense droplets on the oil-Aqueous interface. mE-FS readily formed Winsor Type III microemulsion and produced an IFT of 10-3 mN/m magnitude. The wettability was changed mainly because of the peeling oil film and formation of microemulsion on the surface induced by solubilization. The dynamic increase of the oil-Aqueous IFT at the imbibition front caused by the adsorption loss of surfactant to the surface and partitioning to the oil phase promoted capillary-driven imbibition for nE and mE-FS. We modified an imbibition model to incorporate the solubilization effect, leading to a much better fitting with the experimental data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2021-2035
Number of pages15
JournalSPE Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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