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TECHNICAL NOTE

Analysis of Crude Oil Electrostatic


Desalters Performance
K. ZEIDANI
University of Alberta

A. BAHADORI
University of Masjed-Soleiman

Abstract
New equations covering a wide range of oil types are developed to estimate the treating rate and treating temperature for
dual polarity electrostatic desalters and AC conventional electrostatic desalters in Iranian oil fields. Production of wet crude had
been a growing problem that affected the quality of produced oil
in Iran. Application of the correct technology and the installation
of proper desalting facilities were required to solve this problem.
Therefore, it was decided to install electrostatic desalting plants
progressively in Iranian oil fields. By the end of 2004, more than
20 desalting plants with a total capacity of 207,000 standard
cubic metres per day of treated crude have been installed. The
performance of the majority of these desalting plants have been
tested and found satisfactory. It is expected that the rate of wet
crude production will increase to 366,000 standard cubic metres
per day in 2007.
This study shows that a dual polarity electrostatic desalter may
operate at a minimum crude oil inlet temperature, resulting in
extra fuel savings and eliminating the need for a heating system
in the vessel. In addition, the treating rate for a dual polarity electrostatic desalter is more than for an AC conventional electrostatic desalter.

tion and desalting. It employs chemical demulsifiers, heat, and an


electrostatic field to dehydrate the crude.
All treaters utilize gravity to separate the phases; however, this
is the basic method used to remove the impurities from the crude
oil. It is generally necessary to apply additional treating processes
to speed up the separation process including: 1) chemicals to
break the emulsion; 2) heaters to reduce the viscosity of oils; and,
3) coalescing processes like an electrical field to enlarge the water
droplets(4).
The thermal-electric treater combines the best principles of
thermal treating with electrostatic and chemical treating(5, 6). The
application of electrical dehydrators is based on the well-known
principle that was developed by Dr. F.G. Cottrell almost 85 years
ago. An electric field is a powerful tool to cause the dispersed droplets to rapidly collide with one another, reducing the elasticity of
the interfacial film, and resulting in coalescence of the droplets.
Most electrostatic treaters use an electrode section. The flow path
in an electrostatic treater is the same as a horizontal treater. The
only difference is that an AC or DC electrostatic field is used to
promote coalescence of the water droplets. Field experience tends
to indicate that electrostatic treaters are efficient at reducing water
content in the crude below the 0.5 to 1% basic sediment and water
(BS&W) level. This makes them particularly attractive for desalting applications. However, for normal crude treating, 0.5 to 1%
BS&W is acceptable.

Introduction
The production of salty wet crudes had affected the quality of
Iranian crudes and a number of wells had to be shut in for lack of
treatment facilities(1). The water produced with crude in Iranian oil
fields contains salts in concentrations of 150,000 to 220,000 ppm.
In almost all cases, the salt is found dissolved in the water that is
dispersed in the crude oil. This salt water is present in the crude in
the form of emulsion and its separation is not an easy task.
The installation of current desalting plants within the existing
facilities in Iran called for considerable changes in the facilities
and other utility systems. These changes have been successfully
carried out and the performance of the majority of the desalting
plants have been tested and found satisfactory(1, 2).
When the produced formation water is highly saline as in the
case of Iranian fields, then straight dehydration is not the solution and the crude has to be desalted as well. Dehydration means
removing only that water which is in the crude when crude is produced. The term desalting means the addition of comparatively
fresh water to the crude. This addition of fresh water dilutes the
original brine so that the salt content of the water that remains after
treatment is within acceptable limits. In general, the dehydration
system can be divided into three classes: gravity, electrical, and
chemical, or a combination thereof(3). Therefore, the process adopted in Iran for treating wet crude is a combination of dehydra-

The AC Conventional Electrostatic


Desalter
The AC (Alternating Current) conventional electrostatic dehydration system is an efficient method to remove high salinity formation water from the crude oil stream(9, 10). The treating principle
is almost the same as the heater treater with the exception of applying an electric field for more complete dehydration. The flow
pattern is an adoption of the stream flow pattern. Gas removal
is accomplished in the warmest part of the treater to prevent gas
breakout in the coalescing section. Free water is separated and bypassed around the heating elements, thus minimizing the fuel consumption. Coalescing of the small water droplets is accomplished
by establishing a high voltage AC electrical field in the oil phase of
dehydrator/desalter vessels (Figure 1). The electrical field imposes
an electrical charge on water droplets entrained in the oil stream,
thus causing them to oscillate as they pass through the electrodes.
Figure 2 shows a displacement of electric charges induced by an
alternating electric field on a single water droplet(4). During this oscillation, the droplets are stretched or extended and then contracted
during reversal of the imposing AC electrical field. During this
disturbance the water droplets are attracted to each other and

THIS PAPER IS BEING PUBLISHED AS A TECHNICAL NOTE AND HAS NOT BEEN PEER REVIEWED.
22

Journal of Canadian Petroleum Technology

FIGURE 1: AC conventional electrode field.


FIGURE 3: Electrode configurations in dual polarity treater(11).

FIGURE 2: Induced dipole by alternating electric field on a water


droplet in oil(4).

eventually colloid and coalesce into droplets of sufficient size to


migrate and settle by gravity.

The Dual Polarity Electrostatic Desalter


This treater consists of a pressure vessel with a heating/degassing
section and firetubes, an oil overflow box, and a coalescing section
(Figures 3 and 4(11). In place of the conventional Alternating Current (AC) electrical system, the dual polarity treater uses a system
with both AC and DC fields. The crude oil emulsion enters the
dual polarity treater and flows downward over a hood baffle. The
hood baffle helps to separate free water immediately and bypass
it around the heating elements. Efficient, uniform heating is assured by stream flow distribution of the fluid around the firetubes.
Heating in the oil constant phase reduces the scaling and coking of
the firetubes. Oil emulsion is heated sequentially as it flows up the
firetubes, with the entrained gas and water being removed at the
earliest possible moment in the heating process. Larger water droplets, which thermodynamically are more stable, coalesce and separate. The more stable emulsions containing smaller water droplets
are directed to the coalescing section. These droplets are subjected
to the AC/DC electrostatic fields, and prompted to minimize their
surface area compared with their original parents droplets, while
maximizing volume through coalescence and settling to the bottom
of the vessel by gravity.

Desalting System Parameters


Here are the major factors that affect how efficiently the system
can remove salt crude oil:
1. Oil flow rate;
2. Wash water injection rate/type/temperature;
3. Mixing intensity;
4. Demulsifier type and amount;
5. Process temperature;
6. Process pressure; and,
7. Desalting voltage.
May 2006, Volume 44, No. 5

FIGURE 4: Electrostatic fields in dual polarity treater(11).

It is often necessary to adjust more than one of these process parameters when adjusting the system for optimum performance.

Oil Flow Rate


Desalting plants have to meet the standard for crude oil salt contents, which in the case of the National Iranian Oil Company is
29 grams salt per cubic metre of oil (13 ppm). So it is important
to adjust the rate of salty crude that enters the different electrostatic desaltersAC conventional or dual polarity desaltersto
meet the petroleum standards. If the flow rate exceeds the optimum
rate then salt content of crude oil will be higher than the required
standards. The field data has confirmed an optimum oil flux for
different electrostatic desalters that are used in Iranian oil fields. If
oil throughput is increased above the optimum flow capacity of the
desalting system, a loss in desalting efficiency can be expected.

Wash Water Injection Rate, Type, and


Temperature
The principle in which the wash water operates is that when the
water-in-oil emulsion flowed through an excess amount of internal
phase (water), the droplets of internal phase (water droplets) will
tend to join and coalesce with the excess of internal phase, which
will then be removed from the system in later stages of the process.
As the wash water injection rate increased from the minimum rate
to the maximum rate, the amount of salt remaining in the treated
oil generally will decrease. For efficient salt removal, wash water
shall be injected at the optimum rate. It is desirable to use hot water
in order to minimize the loss of operating temperature. Non-scaling
fresh water is recommended for use as wash water. Hard water is to
be avoided for refinery applications. For a production unit desalter,
wash water (available raw water) has to be deaerated in a cold gas
23

stripper; the remaining oxygen shall be removed by oxygen scavenger up to 0.01 mg/kg to prevent corrosion.

Mixing Intensity
Mixing intensity refers to the degree of oil and water mixing
that is achieved in a mixing valve due to the pressure drop across
the valve. The greater the pressure drop, the greater the mixing intensity. Undermixing or overmixing can occur. Undermixing (an
insufficient pressure drop) results in insufficient salt removal and
low water carryover. Overmixing (too great pressure drop) can also
occur. Too great a pressure drop at the mixer can result in a tight
water-in-oil emulsion, which cannot be broken readily by the electric field in the desalter. Indications that overmixing is occurring
include unusually low voltage at the electrode zone and a higher
than normal carryover of water into the treated oil.

Demulsifier Type and Amount


The scientific basis for chemical resolution processes has not
been well defined and there is no simple designation of specific
chemicals to treat specific emulsions. This is mainly because of
the variation in crude oil composition, water phase composition,
phase/volume ratio of the two liquids in any emulsion, and the occasional presence of other materials such as fine silt and various
formation particles. There are, however, certain types of demulsifier that tend to produce a consistent behaviour in many water-inoil emulsions. The action of an emulsifier mainly depends on how
effectively it is dispersed into the emulsion and how fast it can
reach the individual droplets surface. Once it reaches the interface, it works by flocculation and coalescence of the droplets and/
or by wetting the fine solid particles that usually acts as emulsion
stabilizing agents. A change in demulsifier rate or type may make
precipitation more effective for the crude being treated. Either too
little or too much demulsifier added to the untreated crude may
increase the amount of salt in the treated oil. If for any reason the
type of demulsifier chemical is changed, then chemical flow rates
must be recalculated.

Process Temperature
Heating of crude oil influences the treating process in several
ways. It reduces the viscosity of the oil, resulting in greater force
during collision of water droplets; it increases the free falling velocity of water droplets into less viscous oil; and it enhances the
gravity separation process by increasing the difference in densities. However, it may reduce the volume and the gravity of produced oil. Treating temperatures normally range from 55 to 100
C. In treating heavy crudes, the temperature may be as high as 167
C. The system operating temperature should be maintained within
the range for which the system is designed. A loss in desalting efficiency may be experienced outside this range. In other words, if
the desalter plant experiences a higher than normal system temperature which causes gassing to occur in the vessel, desalting efficiency may be reduced. If the operating temperature is too low,
emulsion resolution will not be as complete. Operation temperature should be above the melting point of the asphaltenes.

Process Pressure
The backpressure valve for the system will normally be set to
maintain a pressure at the vessel which is at least 140 kPa above
the vapour pressure of the oil and water mixture in the vessel.
This prevents the oil and water from vapourizing, expanding, and
forming gas in the vessel. If system backpressure decreases for any
reason, gassing may occur in the vessel. Symptoms of excessive
gassing are excessive water in the treated oil and poor salt removal.
The normal operating values for system backpressure should prevent gassing.

Desalting Voltage
Production unit desalters are sometimes designed for variable desalting voltage. In this case, this parameter can be used to
24

FIGURE 5: Effect of applied electric field on water droplet in oil(4).

obtain optimum performance of the desalter. Whatever the actual


mechanism of electrostatic coalescing, the electrical field causes
the droplets to move about rapidly in random directions, which
increases the collision frequency of the dispersed-phase droplets.
When droplets collide with proper velocity, coalescence occurs.
The greater the voltage gradient, the greater the magnitude of coalescence. However, there is a limitation to the size at which the
droplets may coalesce for a given field strength and a maximum
voltage that can be applied to a given system. Experimental data
show that at some voltage gradient, the water droplet can be pulled
apart and a tighter emulsion can be the result. A full-line drawing
in Figure 5 represents the effect of an applied field upon adjacent
water droplets separated by a distance equal to a few radii(4). Also,
the broken-line drawing and the photo in Figure 5 shows a large
droplet dispersing toward smaller stable droplets. For this reason,
electrostatic treaters normally are equipped with an adjustable
voltage gradient and optimum voltage can be achieved through
field experience.

New Equations for Optimum Treating


The dehydration system in Iranian oil fields employs chemical
demulsifiers, heat, and an electrostatic field to dehydrate the crude.
Time and gravity are the two key factors involved in the process
and are directly related to treating rate and treating temperature.
For optimum dehydration, all the techniques must be applied in a
systematic manner that will conserve energy, minimize costs, and
accomplish the task as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In order to calculate the treating rate (cubic metres oil per day
per square metres) and treating temperature ( C) for both desalters, the oil specific gravity is required. The best-fitting curve,
with a minimal deviation from all field data, can be obtained by
the method of least squares for the two main features of electrostatic desalters, the AC conventional and dual polarity electrostatic
desalters.
The treating rate, q, and treating temperature, T, for the AC conventional electrostatic desalter are:
q = 6, 277.2 2o 12, 406 o + 6,150.4 .................................................. (1)

T = 13.089 2o + 429.54 o 326.38 ..................................................... (2)

For the dual polarity electrostatic desalter, the treating rate, q,


and treating temperature, T, are:
q = 6, 026.4 2o 12, 303o + 6, 283.9 ................................................... (3)

T = 382.38 2o 219.05o 49.288 ................................................... (4)

Figure 6 shows the required desalting temperature for AC


conventional and dual polarity electrostatic desalters. Figure 7
Journal of Canadian Petroleum Technology

AC conventional
Dual polarity

100

Practical data

Treating Rate (m3/day.m2)

Treating Temperature ( C)

280
120

80
60
40
20
0
0.75

0.80

0.85

0.90

0.95

1.00

Oil Specific Gravity

240

Equation results

200

160

120

80
40

FIGURE 6: Treating temperature for AC conventional and dual


polarity electrostatic desalters.

0
0.75

0.80

0.85

0.90

0.95

1.00

FIGURE 9: AC conventional treating rate practical data and new


equation results.

AC conventional
Dual polarity

120
Practical data

0.80

0.85

0.90

0.95

1.00

Oil Specific Gravity


FIGURE 7: Treating rate for AC conventional and dual polarity
electrostatic desalters.

Practical data

Equation results

100

80

60

40

20

0
0.75

120

0.80

0.85

0.90

0.95

1.00

Oil Specific Gravity


FIGURE 10: Dual polarity treating temperature practical data and
new equation results.

Equation results

Treating Temperature ( C)

Treating Temperature ( C)

330
300
270
240
210
180
150
120
90
60
30
0
0.75

100

80
350
Practical data

60

40

20

0
0.75

0.80

0.85

0.90

0.95

1.00

Oil Specific Gravity


FIGURE 8: AC conventional treating temperature practical data
and new equation results.

demonstrates the higher treating rate for dual polarity electrostatic


desalters compared with AC conventional electrostatic desalters.
Figures 8, 9, 10, and 11 show the comparison of these new equation results with practical data in different types of desalters for different crude types.

Preheat Energy Requirement


Required energy to heat the wet crude oil entering the desalter is
calculated by the following formula:
Q = 53.09 ( 0.5o qo ) + ( w qw ) T
May 2006, Volume 44, No. 5

......................................................... (5)

Treating Rate (m3/day.m2)

Treating Rate (m3/day.m2)

Oil Specific Gravity

300

Equation results

250
200
150
100
50
0
0.75

0.80

0.85

0.90

0.95

1.00

Oil Specific Gravity


FIGURE 11: Dual polarity treating rate practical data and new
equation results.

Now we can compare the rate of fuel gas consumption for two
main types of desalters. For example, in the case of Maruns oil
field desalting plants, the operational conditions and the crude oil
properties are as follows:
qo = 8,745 m3/day;
Oil specific gravity = 0.855;
Water specific gravity = 1.15;
Inlet temperature = 44.5 C;
Inlet to AC conventional = 65 C; and,
Inlet to dual polarity = 58.9 C
25

Preheater Load (kW)

REFERENCES
25,000

AC conventional
Dual polarity

20,000
15,000
10,000
5,000
0
0.75

0.80

0.85

0.90

0.95

1.00

Oil Specific Gravity


FIGURE 12: Preheater load for different crude oils and
electrostatic desalters.

Assuming that the free water has been separated from the emulsion and the remaining amount of water is less than 10% of the oil,
then the calculated duties are 4,719 and 3,312 kilo Watts for the AC
conventional electrostatic and dual polarity electrostatic desalters,
respectively. Figure 12 shows the reduction of required energy to
preheat the crude oil for dual polarity electrostatic desalters in a
case at which the inlet temperature is 38.9 C and the crude oil rate
is 8,745 m3/day.

Conclusions
1. New equations covering a wide range of oil types are developed to estimate the treating rate and treating temperature
for dual polarity electrostatic desalters and AC conventional
electrostatic desalters.
2. The dual polarity electrostatic desalter is designed to operate
at temperatures 6 C to 10 C lower than a conventional electrostatic desalter, and up to 34 C cooler than ordinary heater
treater.
3. It is concluded that the dual polarity desalters are more economically beneficial because:
It provides for more complete dehydration. As a result,
it can process at higher viscosities, which means less heat
is required to lower the viscosity of the oil at processing
conditions;
It may operate at the minimum crude oil inlet temperature, resulting in additional fuel savings and eliminating
the need for a heating system in the vessel. It achieves a 7
C reduction in temperature (Figure 6);
Its treating rate is higher than the AC conventional electrostatic desalter (Figure 7); and,
It provides considerable savings in fuel costs for any
gravity of crude oil. Figure 12 reveals the reduction in preheater load for the dual polarity compared with the AC
conventional electrostatic desalter.

Acknowledgements
The authors would like to acknowledge the Department of Petroleum Engineering at the National Iranian South Oil Company
(NISOC) for giving permission to publish this work.

NOMENCLATURE
q
qo
qw
ao
aw
T
Q
T
26

=
=
=
=
=
=
=
=

treating rate, m3/(day.m2)


oil flow rate, m3/day
water flow rate, m3/day
oil specific gravity, dimensionless
water specific gravity, dimensionless
treating temperature, C
heat input, kW
temperature difference, C

1. BAHADORI, A. and ZEIDANI, K., Crude Oil Electrostatic Desalters;


9th Iranian Chemical Engineering Congress proceedings, University
of Science and Technology, Tehran, Iran, pp. 454.23-454.25, November 2004.
2. BAHADORI, A., Process Engineering Data Base Handout; National
Iranian South Oil Company (NISOC), July 2003.
3. ARNOLD, K. and STEWART, M., Surface Production Operations;
Vol. 1, Gulf Publishing Company, Houston, TX, 1998.
4. CHILINGARIAN, G.V., ROBERTSON, JR., J.O., and KUMAR, S.,
Surface Operations in Petroleum Production; Vol. 1, Elsevier Science
Publishers B.V., Oxford, UK, 1987.
5. CUMMINGS, C.B. and ENGELMAN, C.E., The Theory and Economics of Electrostatic Treaters; paper 18850, presented at the SPE
Production Operations Symposium, Oklahoma City, OK, March 13
14, 1989.
6. CHAWLA, M.L., Field Desalting of Wet Crude; paper 15711, presented at the Middle East Oil Show, Bahrain, March 7 10, 1987.
7. HARPUR, I.G., WAYTH, N.J., BAILEY, A.G., THEW, M.T., WILLIAMS, T.J., and URDAHL, O., Destabilisation of Water-in-Oil
Emulsions Under the Influence of an A.C. Electrical Field: Experimental Assessment of Performance; Journal of Electrostatics, Vol.
40-41, pp. 135-140, June 1997.
8. ATTEN, P., Electrocoalescence of Water Droplets in an Insulating
Liquid; Journal of Electrostatics, Vol. 30, pp. 259-269, May 1993.
9. HUGHES, J.F. and PAVEY, I.D., Electrostatic Emulsification;
Journal of Electrostatics, Vol. 10, pp. 45-55, May 1981.
10. MESSENGER, J.U., Emulsion Control Using Electrical Stability Potential; Journal of Petroleum Technology, pp. 1229-1231, October
1965.
11. NATCO Group Literature; Oil Dehydration, Oil Desalting: Crude
Oil Treating, www.natcogroup.com.
ProvenanceOriginal Petroleum Society manuscript, Analysis of Crude
Oil Electrostatic Desalters Performance (2005-093TN), first presented
at the 6th Canadian International Petroleum Conference (the 56th Annual
Technical Meeting of the Petroleum Society), June 7 - 9, 2005, in Calgary,
Alberta. Abstract submitted for review December 9, 2004; editorial comments sent to the author(s) October 26, 2005; revised manuscript received
November 28, 2005; paper approved for pre-press November 28, 2005;
final approval April 6, 2006.

Authors Biographies
Khalil Zeidani is a Ph.D. candidate in petroleum engineering at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He received his
M.Eng. in reservoir engineering from the
University of Calgary in 2002 and his B.Sc.
degree in chemical engineering from the
Petroleum University of Technology of Iran
in 1998. He also holds a diploma in control instrument services (C.I.S.) from the
National Iranian Oil Companys (N.I.O.C.)
Technical School. Previously, he worked
four years as a C.I.S. technologist and three years as a process engineer for the N.I.O.C. His research interests include emulsion
flow through porous media, multi-phase flow in fractures, thermal
recovery methods, and process design.
Alireza Bahadori is a process engineer
with the National Iranian South Oil Company in Ahwaz City, Iran. His expertise
includes artificial lift design, production
optimization, and facilities engineering.
Bahadori has a diploma in control instrument services (C.I.S.) from the National
Iranian Oil Companys (N.I.O.C.) Technical School (1991), a B.Sc. in chemical
engineering from the Petroleum University
of Technology, Abadan, Iran (1998), and an
M.Sc. in chemical engineering from the University of Shiraz, Iran
(2000). He is a member of the Iranian Petroleum Institute and the
Iranian Association of Chemical Engineers. Bahadori is the author
or co-author of 12 conference and journal technical papers.
Journal of Canadian Petroleum Technology