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J Colloid Interface Sci. 2013 Mar 15;394:115-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jcis.2012.11.069. Epub 2012 Dec 28.

Self-assembly of resins and asphaltenes facilitates asphaltene dissolution by an organic acid.

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Department of Chemical & Environmental Engineering, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


Asphaltene precipitation occurs in petroleum fluids under certain unfavorable conditions, but can be controlled by tuning composition. Aromatic solvents in large quantities can prevent precipitation entirely and can dissolve already precipitated asphaltenes. Some polymeric surfactants can dissolve asphaltenes when added at much lower concentrations than required by aromatic solvents. Other dispersants can truncate asphaltene precipitation at the sub-micron length scale, creating stable colloidal asphaltene dispersants. One particular asphaltene dispersant, dodecylbenzene sulfonic acid (DBSA), can do both, namely: (1) stabilize asphaltene colloids and (2) dissolve asphaltenes to the molecular scale. Acid-base interactions are responsible for the efficiency of DBSA in dissolving asphaltenes compared to aromatic solvents. However, many details remain to be quantified regarding the action of DBSA on asphaltenes, including the effect of petroleum fluid composition. For instance, resins, naturally amphiphilic components of petroleum fluids, can associate with asphaltenes, but it is unknown whether they cooperate or compete with DBSA. Similarly, the presence of metals is known to hinder asphaltene dissolution by DBSA, but its effect on colloidal asphaltene stabilization has yet to be considered. We introduce the concepts of cooperativity and competition between petroleum fluid components and DBSA in stabilizing and dissolving asphaltenes. Notably, we find that resins cooperatively interact with DBSA in dissolving asphaltenes. We use UV-vis spectroscopy to investigate the interactions responsible for the phase transitions between unstable suspensions, stable suspensions, and molecular solutions of asphaltenes.

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