An aqueous suspension of silica nanoparticles or nanofluid can alter the wettability of surfaces, specifically by making them hydrophilic and oil-repellent under water. Wettability alteration by nanofluids has important technological applications, including for enhanced oil recovery and heat transfer processes. A common way to characterize the wettability alteration is by measuring the contact angles of an oil droplet with and without nanoparticles. While easy to perform, contact angle measurements do not fully capture the wettability changes to the surface. Here, we employed several complementary techniques, such as cryo-scanning electron microscopy, confocal fluorescence and reflection interference contrast microscopy, and droplet probe atomic force microscopy (AFM), to visualize and quantify the wettability alterations by fumed silica nanoparticles. We found that nanoparticles adsorbed onto glass surfaces to form a porous layer with hierarchical micro- and nanostructures. The porous layer can trap a thin water film, which reduces contact between the oil droplet and the solid substrate. As a result, even a small addition of nanoparticles (0.1 wt %) lowers the adhesion force for a 20 μm sized oil droplet by more than 400 times from 210 ± 10 to 0.5 ± 0.3 nN as measured by using droplet probe AFM. Finally, we show that silica nanofluids can improve oil recovery rates by 8% in a micromodel with glass channels that resemble a physical rock network.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Materials Science