Oil-in-water (O/W) emulsions are expected to be formed in the process of surfactant flooding for heavy oil reservoirs in order to strengthen the fluidity of heavy oil and enhance oil recovery. However, there is still a lack of detailed understanding of mechanisms and effects involved in the flow of O/W emulsions in porous media. In this study, a pore-scale transparent model packed with glass beads was first used to investigate the transport and retention mechanisms of in situ generated O/W emulsions. Then, a double-sandpack model with different permeabilities was used to further study the effect of in situ formed O/W emulsions on the improvement of sweep efficiency and oil recovery. The pore-scale visualization experiment presented an in situ emulsification process. The in situ formed O/W emulsions could absorb to the surface of pore-throats, and plug pore-throats through mechanisms of capture-plugging (by a single emulsion droplet) and superposition-plugging or annulus-plugging (by multiple emulsion droplets). The double-sandpack experiments proved that the in situ formed O/W emulsion droplets were beneficial for the mobility control in the high permeability sandpack and the oil recovery enhancement in the low permeability sandpack. The size distribution of the produced emulsions proved that larger pressures were capable to displace larger O/W emulsion droplets out of the pore-throat and reduce their retention volumes.

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