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OTC 23624

Study of wax inhibition in different geometries


Rama Venkatesan, Vasu Sampath, and L. A. Washington, Chevron Energy Technology Company, Houston TX

Copyright 2012, Offshore Technology Conference


This paper was prepared for presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference held in Houston, Texas, USA, 30 April3 May 2012.
This paper was selected for presentation by an OTC program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Offshore Technology Conference and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Offshore Technology Conference, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Offshore Technology Conference is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of OTC copyright.

Abstract
Wax inhibitors are sometimes used to reduce the rate of wax deposition in pipelines. The efficiency of the inhibitors depends
on several factors such as the right chemistry, injection or introduction at the correct location, targeting the right operating
conditions and testing appropriately. It is known that bench top tests such as cold finger tests, while useful to qualitatively
gauge chemical performance, are not useful to quantitatively predict the performance of a chemical under field operating
conditions. This is because the operating parameters such as the temperature difference, heat flux, and shear rates
experienced in the field cannot be reproduced in such bench top devices simultaneously.
In this study, we discuss the use of a cold disk apparatus for screening chemicals to reduce wax deposition rates of a
relatively waxy offshore crude oil. Several chemicals were screened by choosing temperature differentials similar to those
expected in the field where maximum deposition was predicted to occur. The best chemical was then chosen for larger scale
flow loop study. Flow loop deposition experiments were performed with the chosen chemical after appropriately choosing
the flow rate and heat flux to drive the deposition. The results showed quantitatively good agreement with the cold disk
experiment.
Testing and agreement at such different scales provided a greater degree of confidence in the efficiency of the wax inhibitor,
although it is understood that field performance may still vary depending on various other factors some of which relate to
operating conditions, fluid composition, wax content, pipeline size and shear. Modeling deposition in the flow loop also
improved the confidence in these results.
Introduction
Wax deposition is a key Flow Assurance challenge for many offshore and other cold environment oilfields. Wax deposits as a
gel on pipe walls; this gel consists of solid wax crystals that entrap liquid oil within the crystal network. Initially, a thin layer
of wax-oil gel deposits on the cold pipe wall; as time progresses, the deposit grows in thickness and hardens. It has been
shown by several researchers that two conditions must be met for wax deposition to occur in a pipe. These conditions are:
1.
The oil temperature near the wall must be lower than the wax appearance temperature (Toil < WAT)
2.
The wall temperature must be lower than the oil temperature (Twall < Toil)
Experiments performed with no radial heat flux (Twall = Toil) or an inward heat flux (Twall > Toil) have shown no deposition
to occur (Hamouda and Davidsen 1995; Singh et al. 2000).
Prevention of wax deposition entails maintaining the fluid in the pipeline at a temperature above the WAT. While this is
possible for shorter pipelines such as in-field tiebacks, it is typically not feasible to insulate long oil export lines (~100 km) to
be above the WAT. For oils that exhibit low to moderate wax deposition rates, the usual mitigation strategy is to pig the line
at regular intervals to remove the deposit. For oils that show high deposition rates, wax inhibitor chemicals are sometimes
used to manage wax deposition in combination with pigging. Note that no wax chemical has been found to eliminate wax
deposition; the primary aim in using these chemicals is to reduce the deposition rate.
In a previous OTC paper (Venkatesan and Creek, 2010), the importance of apropriate choice of wax inhibitor chemicals was
discussed. A good lab testing program is necessary to qualify chemicals for use in the field. It is known that bench top tests
such as cold finger tests, while useful to qualitatively gauge chemical performance, are not useful to quantitatively predict the
performance of a chemical under field operating conditions. This is because the operating parameters such as the temperature

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difference, heat flux, and shear rates experienced in the field cannot be reproduced in such bench top devices simultaneously.
In this study, we discuss the use of a cold disk apparatus for screening chemicals to reduce wax deposition rates of a
relatively waxy offshore crude oil. The primary purpose of using this device was to provide a relatively quick screening for
chemicals while using low volumes (~150 cc) of the oil for each test. The deposition experiments were performed by
choosing temperature differentials similar to those expected in the field where maximum deposition was predicted to occur.
The best performing chemical was identified. As noted above, the flow field in such an equipment cannot match that in the
field pipeline. Hence, a larger scale flow loop study was performed with the best chemical to quantify the reduction in wax
deposition rates.

Chemicals and experimental details


The oil studied had a Wax Appearance Temperature (WAT) of about 115F and a pour point of about 80F. By performing a
DSC on the oil, the total amount of wax precipitated by cooling down to 32F was estimated to be about 6.5 wt%. This is a
relatively waxy oil.
Four different chemicals from vendors were chosen to study their effectiveness in reducing the wax deposition rate. All
chemicals were tested at a dosage rate of 500 ppm (by volume).
A cold disk apparatus, originally designed at CalTech, was used to screen the chemicals. This apparatus is a cylindrical
vessel with a polished stainless steel disk imbedded in the wall (Wu et al., 2002). The vessel contains a rotating impeller
connected to a spinning rotor. The impeller circulates the fluid in the vessel and past the surface of the imbedded disk, while
the disk is cooled externally. Wax deposits on this cold disk under appropriate conditions, and can be extracted and the
amount measured.
The flowloop setup consists of a 12 ft test section of 1 steel pipe immersed in a cold bath maintained at a constant
temperature. Wax depositon experiments are performed at a constant flow rate with a given temperature differential between
the oil and the pipe wall. The deposition is monitored as a function of time via pressure drop measurements. The flowloop is
equipped with a 1 ft removable spool piece. At the end of the deposition experiment, this spool piece can be removed to
inspect the deposit and characterize it.

Discussion
The oil studied had a Wax Appearance Temperature (WAT) of about 115F and a pour point of about 80F. By performing a
Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) study on the oil, the amount of wax precipitated out of the oil was estimated as a
function of temperature. At a temperature of 32F, the total amount of solid wax precipitated in the system was about 6.5
wt%. The non-Newtonian viscosity of the oil is shown in Figure 1. As can be seen, the WAT may be approximately inferred
from the low shear viscosity data. Significant deviation from the Newtonian behavior is observed as more wax precipitates
out of solution upon cooling. There is an order of magnitude difference in the viscosities at low (10 s-1) and high (100 s-1)
shear rates at the sub-sea (40F) temperatures.

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10000

Viscosity (cp)

1000

Shearrate=10/s
Shearrate=100/s

100

10

1
30

50

70

90
Temperature(F)

110

130

150

Figure 1: Non-Newtonian viscosity of the oil


Using the basic oil composition, wax solubility and the viscosity values shown above, a fluid model was built (in a
commercial software) to describe this oil. A default wax deposition model, without any model parameter tuning, was then run
with this fluid for the oil export line, with the aim of identifying the approximate location where maximum deposition is
estimated to occur. Note that the aim at this point was not to quantify the exact deposition rates. The results from the model
showed that the maximum deposition would occur when the oil temperature drops close to the WAT (~110-115F). At this
point, the inside pipe wall temperature is about 80F. Hence, this temperature driving force (Toil110F and Twall80F) was
used in the deposition experiments in this study.
Initially, the cold disk deposition experiment was run with the oil, without any chemicals, to establish the baseline wax
deposition tendency at the temperature driving force noted above. It is difficult to choose an appropriate stirring speed for the
impeller because the flow does not directly correspond to the shear flow expected in a typical pipeline. CFD simulations of
this cold disk apparatus showed that the flow at the surface of the disk is not steady shear; rather, it is a pulsating flow as the
impeller blades approach and move away from the disk. Thus, the speed of the impeller was chosen so that the average
shear at the plate was roughly equal to the wall shear in the subsequent flowloop experiments. Note that since the purpose of
the cold disk experiment was to screen the chemicals, an exact match of the various flow parameters was not deemed
necessary. The deposition experiment was performed for a period of two hours, and the deposit removed from the cold disk
and weighed. The experiment was repeated and the error in measurement found to be of the order of 5-10%.
Once the baseline was established, various chemicals were added to the oil at a constant dosage rate of 500 ppm. The dosage
rate was determined after preliminary testing and discussions with operations. The wax deposit was measured in each case.
The results are shown in Table 1. From this table, it can be observed that the Chemical 2 performed the best in reducing wax
deposition rates. The efficiency of this inhibitor was about 60% under these test conditions, and is significantly better than
the other chemicals tested in this study.

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Table 1: Effect of various wax inhibitors on deposition (cold disk)


Blend

Wax wt. deposited


(mg)

Toil (F)

Tdisc (F )

%
reduction

Deposit
consistency

Oil - blank

51.1

109

81

Soft

Oil + 500ppm Chemical 1

31.4

110

82

39%

Harder

Oil + 500ppm Chemical 2

21.6

110

82

58%

Harder

Oil + 500ppm Chemical 3

32.7

110

82

36%

Soft

Oil + 500ppm Chemical 4

31.5

110

82

38%

Soft

It is important to note that the appropriate temperature driving force must be used in the study so that the chemicals target the
same wax carbon number distribution that contributes to the deposit in the lab as in the field.
Chemical 2 was then chosen for the more detailed flowloop studies. The flowloop deposition experiments were also
performed with the same temperature driving force (Toil110F and Twall80F). Initially, the oil was run to establish the
baseline. In this case, the amount of wax deposited in the spoolpiece after about 24 hours of deposition was 8.4 g. The
calculated deposition rate in the flowloop is about 4.810-6 kg/m2/s. This is lower than the deposition rate from the cold disk
(for the blank oil case), which is about 1.910-5 kg/m2/s. The difference is attributed to the difference in the flow field. The
difference in the flow field results in several differences, such as the resulting boundary layer thicknesses over which mass
transfer occurs. Hence, as noted earlier, quantitatively the deposition rates in the different geometries are not equivalent.
The wax deposition model was then used to simulate this flowloop test. With the choice of an appropriate deposition model
(assuming mass transfer occurs across the thermal boundary layer), the flowloop results were matched with reasonable
accuracy.
Flowloop deposition test under the same operating conditions with Chemical 2 showed a wax deposit of about 3.3 g. This is a
reduction of about 60%. This is the same as the result from the cold disk experiments. Thus, although the magnitude of the
deposition rates in the two geometries is not the same, the relative effect of the chemical is the same in both cases.
This result is likely because the chemicals target the same wax species in both cases, since the temperatures and temperature
driving force are identical. The effect of flow appears to be secondary with these constraints, at least for this particular oil.
Testing and agreement at such different scales provided a greater degree of confidence in the efficiency of the wax inhibitor.
While it is acknolwdged that field performance (exact magnitude of reduction in the deposition rate) may still vary depending
on various other factors some of which relate to operating conditions, fluid composition, wax content, pipeline size and shear,
the lab testing described above shows that the chosen chemical is reasonably effective to aid in field design and operations.

Conclusions
It is important to choose the appropriate test conditions for any deposition study whether it be a flow loop or a small scale
device such as the cold disk apparatus described in this work. In order to gauge the effectiveness of wax chemicals, the
temperature driving force in the lab experiments should be similar to that expected in the field where most of the wax
deposition is predicted/known to occur. The results from this study show that, with identical driving force, the effectiveness
of wax inhibitor is the same in different geometries although the magnitude of the base case deposition is different in each
case. Further work is necessary to determine if such a conclusion can be arrived at for other oils as well.

Acknowledgements
The authors thank Chevron Corporation for permission to publish this paper. Lee Rhyne of Chevron Energy Technology
Company is thanked for discussions on CFD simulations of the cold disk flow behavior.

References
Hamouda, A.A. and Davidsen, S. (1995), "Approach for simulation of paraffin deposition in pipelines as a function of flow
characteristics with a reference to Teesside oil pipeline", Proceedings SPE International Symposium on Oilfield Chemistry.

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213-224.
Singh, P., Venkatesan, R., Fogler, H.S. and Nagarajan, N.R. (2000), Formation and aging of incipient thin film wax-oil
gels, AIChE J., 46 (5).
Venkatesan, R. and Creek, J.L. (2010), Wax deposition and rheology: Progress and problems from an operator's view, OTC
20668.
Wu, C., Wang, K., Shuler, P. J., Tang, Y., Creek, J. L., Carlson, R. M., and Cheung, S. (2002), Measurement of wax
deposition in paraffin solutions, AIChE J., 48 (9).