Size-dependent properties of silica nanoparticles for Pickering stabilization of emulsions and foams

  • Ijung KimEmail author
  • Andrew J. Worthen
  • Keith P. Johnston
  • David A. DiCarlo
  • Chun Huh
Research Paper


Nanoparticles are a promising alternative to surfactants to stabilize emulsions or foams in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) processes due to their effectiveness in very harsh environments found in many of the oilfields around the world. While the size-dependent properties of nanoparticles have been extensively studied in the area of optics or cellular uptake, little is known on the effects of nanoparticle size on emulsion/foam generation, especially for EOR applications. In this study, silica nanoparticles with four different sizes (5, 12, 25, and 80 nm nominal diameter) but with the same surface treatment were employed to test their emulsion or foam generation behavior in high-salinity conditions. The decane-in-brine emulsion generated by sonication or flowing through sandpack showed smaller droplet size and higher apparent viscosity as the nanoparticle size decreased. Similarly, the CO2-in-brine foam generation in sandstone or sandpacks was also significantly affected by the nanoparticle size, exhibiting higher apparent foam viscosity as the nanoparticle size decreased. In case of foam generation in sandstone cores with 5 nm nanoparticles, a noticeable hysteresis occurred when the flow velocity was initially increased and then decreased, implying a strong foam generation initially; and then the trapping of the generated foam in the rock pores, as the flow velocity decreased. On the other hand, weak foams stabilized with larger nanoparticles indicated a rapid coalescence of bubbles which prevented foam generation. Overall, stable emulsions/foams were achievable by the smaller particles as a result of greater diffusivity and/or higher number concentration, thus allowing more nanoparticles with higher surface area to volume ratio to be adsorbed at the fluid/fluid interfaces of the emulsion/foam dispersion.

Graphical abstract


Nanoparticles Size Interface Emulsion CO2 foam 



The authors acknowledge the financial support from the Nanoparticles for Subsurface Engineering IAP at the University of Texas at Austin (member companies: Baker-Hughes, Maersk, Nissan Chemical, PetroBras, Wintershall), and the donation of silica nanoparticles from Nissan Chemical America Corp.

Supplementary material

11051_2016_3395_MOESM1_ESM.docx (94 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 93 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Petroleum and Geosystems EngineeringThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.McKetta Department of Chemical EngineeringThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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