Enhancing oil recovery from currently available reservoirs is a major issue for petroleum companies. Among the possible strategies towards this, chemical flooding through injection of surfactants into the wells seems to be particularly promising, thanks to their ability to reduce oil/water interfacial tension that promotes oil mobilization. Environmental concerns about the use of synthetic surfactants led to a growing interest in their replacement with surfactants of biological origin, such as lipopeptides and glycolipids produced by several microorganisms. Hydrophobins are small amphiphilic proteins produced by filamentous fungi with high surface activity and good emulsification properties, and may represent a novel sustainable tool for this purpose. We report here a thorough study of their stability and emulsifying performance towards a model hydrocarbon mixture, in conditions that mimic those of real oil reservoirs (high salinity and high temperature). Due to the moderate interfacial tension reduction induced in such conditions, the application of hydrophobins in enhanced oil recovery techniques does not appear feasible at the moment, at least in absence of co-surfactants. On the other hand, the obtained results showed the potential of hydrophobins in promoting the formation of a gel-like emulsion 'barrier' at the oil/water interface.
- enhanced oil recovery (EOR)