‘Emulsion locks’ for the containment of hydrocarbons during surfactant flushing

Erica Pensini , Kristine Lamont , Alejandro G. Marangoni


Received August 31, 2019,Revised , Accepted November 28, 2019, Available online December 18, 2019

Volume 32,2020,Pages 98-109

Reversible double water in oil in water (W/O/W) emulsions were developed to contain subsurface hydrocarbon spills during their remediation using surfactant flushing. Double emulsions were prepared by emulsifying CaCl2 solutions in canola oil, and subsequently by emulsifying the W/O emulsions in aqueous sodium alginate solutions. The formation of double emulsions was confirmed with confocal and optical microscopy. The double emulsions reversed and gelled when mixed with the surfactants sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) and cocamidopropyl betaine (CPB). Gels can act as ‘emulsion locks’ to prevent spreading of the hydrocarbon plume from the areas treated with surfactant flushing, as shown in sand column tests. Shear rheology was used to quantify the viscoelastic moduli increase (gelation) upon mixing the double emulsion with SDS and CPB. SDS was more effective than CPB in gelling the double emulsions. CPB and SDS could adsorb at the interface between water and model hydrocarbons (toluene and motor oil), lowering the interfacial tension and rigidifying the interface (as shown with a Langmuir trough). Bottle tests and optical microscopy showed that SDS and CPB produced W/O and O/W emulsions, with either toluene or motor oil and water. The emulsification of motor oil and toluene in water with SDS and CPB facilitated their flow through sand columns and their recovery. Toluene recovery from sand columns was quantitated using Gas-Chromatography Mass-Spectroscopy (GC-MS). The data show that SDS and CPB can be used both for surfactant flushing and to trigger the gelation of ‘emulsion locks’. Ethanol also gelled the emulsions at 100 mL/L.

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