Gemini Surfactant Structures for Enhanced Oil Recovery

Physical Sciences : Petroleum

Available for licensing


  • Mukul Sharma, Ph.D. , Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering
  • Upali Weerasooriya, Ph.D. , Harcros Chemical Company
  • Bo Gao , Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering
  • Gary Pope, Ph.D. , Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering
  • Jiajia Cai , University of Texas at Austin

Background/unmet need

The growth of the global economy continues to fuel demand for petroleum and its byproducts. Increasing exploration and production costs force oil companies to squeeze every drop of crude from existing fields. Mature oilfields that are at the tail end of their primary and even secondary (waterflood) recovery phases are being re-evaluated based on application of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods.

In order to optimize tertiary recovery schemes, the physical properties of the oil and the rock that make up a field play a much more important role. Surfactants can be formulated specifically to enhance oil recovery based on these properties. Many such oilfields have ultra-high salinities (greater than 100,000 ppm) which hinder the activity effects of current surfactant EOR compositions. High hardness ion concentration is also an issue, since many surfactant compositions do not perform well in such conditions and water softening is costly.

Invention Description

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a novel crafted class of Gemini anionic surfactants for use in chemical EOR applications that can be applied at concentrations an order of magnitude lower than conventional sulfonate surfactants, cutting down the cost of the surfactant. This new composition can be used for recovery of a large range of crude oil compositions from even the most challenging reservoirs. These surfactants yield ultra-low interfacial tension at high salinity and/or high hardness ion concentrations. The surfactants have been shown to perform well at salinities up to 250,000 ppm and hardness ion concentrations up to 20,000 ppm. Another potential advantage of these surfactants is their ability to viscosify the aqueous phase under certain conditions of temperature and salinity.


  • Can replace sulfonate surfactants commonly used in chemical EOR
  • Reduction in EOR surfactant costs by up to an order of magnitude
  • Effective at high salinities and hardness ion concentrations
  • Stable at high temperatures


  • New class of Gemini anionic surfactants
  • Sulfonate type behavior
  • Higher anionic charge density than conventional surfactants
  • High viscosity allows for use without any polymer added
  • Can be manufactured using well-established synthesis routes for large-scale production
  • Wide variation in surfactant structure allows for molecule customization for specific reservoir salinity, temperature, and crude oil properties

Market potential/applications

According to the DOE, world oil production in 2016 is currently 96.16 million barrels/day and world oil consumption is 95.40 barrels/day. Further, the DOE suggests that primary and secondary oil recovery methods leave as much as 75% of the petroleum in the ground.

EOR is a rapidly growing market due to the constant rise in world oil consumption. According to Markets and Markets, the global market for EOR technologies is projected to reach $400 billion by 2019.

Development Stage

Lab/bench prototype

IP Status

  • 1 U.S. patent application filed