Water-in-Hydrocarbon Emulsions Stabilized by Asphaltenes at Low Concentrations

J Colloid Interface Sci. 2000 Aug 1;228(1):52-63. doi: 10.1006/jcis.2000.6938.


The role of Athabasca asphaltene particles and molecules in stabilizing emulsions was examined by measuring the surface area of water-in-toluene/hexane emulsions stabilized by various asphaltene fractions, each with a different proportion of soluble and insoluble asphaltenes. The stabilized interfacial area was found to depend only on the amount of soluble asphaltenes. Furthermore, the amount of asphaltenes on the interface was consistent with molecular monolayer coverage. Hence, at low concentrations, asphaltenes appear to both act as a molecular surfactant and stabilize emulsions. The effect of the hexane : toluene ratio on emulsion stability was examined as well. At lower hexane : toluene ratios, more asphaltenes were soluble but the surface activity of a given asphaltene molecule was reduced. The two effects oppose each other but, in general, a smaller fraction of asphaltenes appeared to stabilize emulsions at lower hexane : toluene ratios. The results imply that the emulsifying capacity of asphaltenes is reduced but not eliminated in better solvents. Copyright 2000 Academic Press.