Aggregation and solubility behavior of asphaltenes and their subfractions

J Colloid Interface Sci. 2003 Nov 1;267(1):178-93. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9797(03)00641-6.


Asphaltenes from four different crude oils (Arab Heavy, B6, Canadon Seco, and Hondo) were fractionated in mixtures of heptane and toluene and analyzed chemically, by vapor pressure osmometry (VPO), and by small angle neutron scattering (SANS). Solubility profiles of the asphaltenes and their subfractions indicated strong cooperative asphaltene interactions of a particular subfraction that is polar and hydrogen bonding. This subfraction had lower H/C ratios and modestly higher N, V, Ni, and Fe contents than the less polar and more soluble subfraction of asphaltenes. VPO and SANS studies indicated that the less soluble subfractions formed aggregates that were considerably larger than the more soluble subfractions. In general, asphaltene aggregate size increased with decreasing solvent aromaticity up to the solubility limit, beyond which the aggregate size decreased with heptane addition. The presence of a low wavevector Q feature in the scattering curves at 25 degrees C indicated that the individual aggregates were flocculating; however, the intensity of the feature was diminished upon heating of the samples to 80 degrees C. The solubility mechanism for Canadon Seco asphaltenes, the largest aggregate formers, appears to be dominated by aromatic pi-bonding interactions due to their low H/C ratio and low nitrogen content. B6 and Hondo asphaltenes formed similar-sized aggregates in heptol and the solubility mechanism is most likely driven by polar interactions due to their relatively high H/C ratios and high nitrogen contents. Arab Heavy, the least polar asphaltene, had a H/C ratio similar to Canadon Seco but formed the smallest aggregates in heptol. The enhancement in polar and pi-bonding interactions for the less soluble subfraction indicated by elemental analysis is reflected by the aggregate size from SANS. The less soluble asphaltenes contribute the majority of species responsible for aggregation and likely cause many petroleum production problems such as pipeline deposition and water-in-oil emulsion stabilization.