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Smart Pickering emulsions

Project Overview

Emulsion plays an important role in oil-well drilling by altering the surface tension between water and oil in the reservoir, mobilizing oil which would otherwise remain in the reservoir as residual oil. There are many approaches to improve oil recovery through additives to water and surfactants are commonly used. A relatively large concentration of a suitable surfactant needs to be used to stabilize emulsion, and this can be rather expensive. More importantly, a great deal of surfactant is lost from extraction due to it tends to adsorb uselessly onto rock surfaces. Particles are known to be very effective emulsifiers and lead to very stable emulsions due to combination of sterical and electrostatic repulsions of the oil droplets and viscoelastic behavior of the o/w interfaces. A notable advantage is that particles form an equilibrium with a high concentration in solution, which enable they effectively bind reversibly at the interface, unlike molecular surfactants. This distingue property will not only increase the emulsion stability, but also offer opportunity to create an efficient and reversible emulsification process that can occur within oil well. This is called responsive Pickering (nanoparticulate) emulsification. The aim of this project is to synthesis stable, aqueous dispersions of active nanoparticles that travel through the formation, and bind strongly only at oil-water interface; Ideally, switchable binding is formed so that emulsion can be easily broken at the surface and oil is automatically separated from the aqueous phase containing nanoparticles. This aqueous phase is readily reused in the system.


Jing Li
PhD student

Prof. Alexander Bismarck
Prof. Milo Shaffer



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