Chemical innovator AkzoNobel offers its view of oilfield chemistry for the 21st century
“The future of the oilfield industry is clear,” says AkzoNobel’s global oilfield marketing manager, Jeroen Pul. “All the players in the value chain must become more sustainable in order to maintain a licence to operate – quite literally in the case of companies operating in the North Sea.”
Regulations for operators in environmentally sensitive areas are becoming continuously and increasingly stringent. Rules and standards which have been set in areas such as the North Sea are also beginning to be taken further afield – and countries such as Angola are now starting to work on legal frameworks which would force the oil industry to become more sustainable if it wants to “play ball.”
As a chemistry solutions supplier to oil service companies around the world, AkzoNobel plays only a small role in the process, early on in the supply chain. Yet it places a strong emphasis on the importance of sustainability within that entire chain. “We do play a very crucial role,” he continues, “Because if the downstream value chain is not sustainable it will affect the end product.”
The company’s approach – which includes a target to make 20% of its revenue from products that are more sustainable for its customers than those of the competition by 2020 – has won accolades, including the top spot in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for three consecutive years. By developing and manufacturing more innovative chemistries that are made from renewable raw materials and which can be safely disposed of at the end of the lifecycle, AkzoNobel’s customers can also make more sustainable end-market solutions.
“So we all have to become more sustainable,” Pul says. “But in the end of the day, what pays the bills for our service company customers is their productivity, because you can have the most environmentally friendly chemistry formulations in the world, but if they don’t get the job done they add no value.”
Added value please!
AkzoNobel’s value proposition to its oilfield customers lies in helping them consistently deliver world-class productivity. Its solutions aim to offer the performance required for increasingly demanding market and operating conditions, but also to reduce the environmental impact of oilfield operations.
“Specifically, we aim to improve the ecotoxicity of chemistries used in the market today with more benign materials and continuously improve our current portfolio with more environmentally friendly versions of products with equal or better performance,” he explains.
Armohib CI-5150 is a corrosion inhibitor engineered specifically for use in the oilfield. Based on alkyl polyquaternary amine chemistry, Armohib’s film-forming polymeric structure is positively charged at multiple points in the polymer chain, which it believes makes for better adhesion to metal surfaces, and greater film integrity under a range of operating conditions.
This makes it ideal for deployment to prevent sweet corrosion – metal deterioration by carbon dioxide and moisture – in pipelines and in severe brine environments. This same stability in brine also makes it versatile: it can be used not only for production chemistry, but in drilling and completion fluid formulations too.
Herein is the crux. Armohib CI-5150 is formulated to meet important environmental toxicity regulations, but without compromising on performance of “original” chemistries – Figure 1 shows the newest generation with a clear advantage when compared to previous corrosion inhibitors based on Imidazoline chemistry.
“It’s also easy to formulate,” says AkzoNobel’s regional sales manager oilfield, Adrian Zuberbühler, “taking headaches away from our customers while blending.”
The crude separation process remains another challenge to service companies and operators. The nature of demulsifying chemicals – which usually include polymeric materials – can mean that biodegradability is an issue. AkzoNobel has taken a new approach with cleavable surfactant technology, which breaks down the molecule’s ester links, whilst degrading.
Interestingly, the technology originally derived from the fabric and homecare industry, where weak links are built into surfactants in order to prolong the release of “fresh” or “clean” odours. The principal mechanism was then incorporated into the development of its new sustainable demulsifiers, as well as preserving the high-performance and low-dosage rates of traditional products on the market.
It was also important to resolve the built-in conflict between high molecular weight which contributes to a low aquatoxicity, but often results in poor biodegradability.
Having solved these issues, the company has recently launched its newest demulsifiers, the Witbreak GT range. These show 20-60% biodegradability in 28 days (tested to OECD 306) and meet aquatic toxicity regulations, such as tox marine algae (EC 50) in concentrations > 100 mg/l.
Owing to the high degree of versatility these “Orthoesters” offer, it expects to launch further products in the future, including the option for AkzoNobel to formulate new, tailor-made products for its customers.
The Ecotox hurdle
“A current challenge in using surfactants in the North Sea is the use of the traditional non-ionic surfactants in applications such as rig cleaners and casing cleaners,” Zuberbühler said. Some of the more commonly used synthetic alcohol ethoxylates are on the verge of being banned as a result of their aquatoxic properties. Replacing them with safer products with equal performance is one of the chemical sector’s biggest challenges.
In response, AkzoNobel developed the Armoclean range. “The tuned Armoclean alcohol ethoxylates outperform traditional non-ionic surfactants and show a 10 times better aquatoxic profile,” he enthused.
The Armoclean range consists of non-ionic surfactants, as well as a number of alkylglucosides. “The favourable ecotoxic profile of alkylglucosides is well-known, but the trick is in the right use,” Zuberbühler explained, “so we work closely together with our customers to help them find and formulate the best solutions in order to get the features of the final product right.”
Often traditional hydrotopes are high-foaming, presenting problems when using such surfactants. Products like Armoclean 6000 and Armoclean 6040 are low-foam alkylglucosides, with excellent hydrotroping properties. Using these formulations as hydrotopes/co-surfactants increases the temperature and brine stability of the overall formulation.
There are many chemistry-related challenges facing oil service companies today – and there are inevitably many more ahead. AkzoNobel is already developing sustainable chemical solutions with environmental benefits to address wax build-up, as well as problems related to asphaltenes and hydrates, all of which are areas in need of new innovation.
But with regulations becoming stricter, and a global push to develop oilfields that are more difficult to reach and that demand unconventional approaches to develop, chemical manufacturers once again have the opportunity to lead from the front and be part of the solution.
“Our portfolio of products allows our customers to select the solution that best fits their specific needs in any particular oilfield application. In addition, we have a long track record of partnering with our customers to work on exclusive innovations for specific challenges,” says Zuberbühler.
AkzoNobel has global experience and the expertise to enhance the oilfield industry’s production, drilling and stimulation processes – using chemistry solutions that do not compensate performance for sustainability.
Contact: Adrian Zuberbühler, Regional Sales Manager Oilfield EMEIA