Based on product type, the global oilfield surfactants market is broadly categorized into cationic, non-ionic, silicone, anionic, and amphoteric, which are chosen for different oil exploration activities depending on the oilfield type, among other factors.
Burgeoning surfactant demand for drilling applications in the oil & gas domain will drive oilfield surfactants market outlook
In the oil & gas sector, oilfield surfactants are used across myriad applications including hydraulic fracturing, crude oil transportation, waterflooding, foam flooding, drilling, corrosion inhibition, and more.
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In drilling applications, oilfield surfactants help in the formation of drilling fluids, particularly in water oil and oil-water systems. Some surfactant products also accelerate the production of foam, and help clear spacer fluid of drilling mud residues, for wellbore cementing and well formation.
An example of oil surfactants for drilling is Schlumberger’s VERSAWET Oil-Based Mud Surfactant. The product has the capability to oil-wet drill solids and weight materials to prevent water-wetting of solids, enhances rheological stability, thermal stability and emulsion stability, filtration control, in addition to enhancing the contamination resistance of the fluids.
The ecological impact of synthetic surfactants in oil exploration has garnered considerable scientific, political and public attention. These concerns are focused mainly on the toxicity of the products and their long-term presence in the environment. However, advancements in biotechnology coupled with stringent regulations regarding chemical usage are addressing these issues, by developing bio-based oilfield surfactants or biosurfactants as an ideal alternative for conventional surfactant products.
Several studies have demonstrated the ability of biosurfactants to replace nearly any chemical-based surfactants, by exhibiting unique physicochemical characteristics. Bio-based oilfield surfactants are used for various oil recovery applications including remediation of hydrocarbons, wax deposit dispersion, and enhanced oil recovery. These applications benefit greatly from the biodegradability, exceptional surface wettability and low CMC (critical micelle concentration) of biosurfactants.
In enhanced oil recovery, for instance, biosurfactants have demonstrated increases of 50% to 400% in production. The consistency of these products, alongside their array of advantageous properties, has even earned them several accolades. For example, in 2019, a line of biosurfactants developed by Locus Bio-Energy Solutions dubbed the AssurEOR Biosurfactant Treatment Program was awarded the New Technology of the Year award by Oil & Gas Awards, in Texas and Northeast regions.
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Costly production process and information limitation associated with biosurfactants may hamper industry growth
Even though biosurfactants have proved to be a lucrative development for the oilfield surfactant industry, restricted information with regards to renewable substrate consumption and kinetic production may pose a considerable roadblock to growth. Likewise, the expensive production process of the product, characterized by refined raw material usage, by-product formation and high foam formation in the fermentation process may also hinder oilfield surfactant market expansion.
One of the latest advancements in the oilfield surfactants business landscape is the emergence of Gemini surfactants or GSs. These surfactants are part of a novel class of products that contain more than one surfactant joined by a spacer group. They possess several unique physical aggregation and chemical morphologies, as compared to single head single tail surfactant products. They also have lower CMCs, antibacterial properties, superior solubilizing capacity, and are required in considerably lower quantities, making them ideal for application in the oilfield domain.
Meanwhile, chemical company Nouryon has also expanded its oilfield surfactant portfolio with the addition of a new demulsifier range. These products, branded as the Witbreak NEO range, offer a more sustainable option for the separation of crude oil from water and natural gas. The products are seawater-biodegradable and demonstrate a better cost-to-performance ratio than their conventional counterparts.
To summarize, oilfield surfactants are considered to be key components of nearly every application in the oil exploration domain. With oilfield chemicals like demulsifiers, etc. showing robust capability in the retrieval and processing of high-quality oil for market consumption, more oil & gas industry players are now refocusing on adopting these dynamic products for consistent and productive exploration for one of the most important commodities across the globe.
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