Ion adsorption-induced wetting transition in oil-water-mineral systems

F. Mugele, B. Bera, A. Cavalli, I. Siretanu, A. Maestro, M. Duits, M.A. Cohen Stuart, D. van den Ende

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


The relative wettability of oil and water on solid surfaces is generally governed by a complex competition of molecular interaction forces acting in such three-phase systems. Herein, we experimentally demonstrate how the adsorption of in nature abundant divalent Ca2+ cations to solid-liquid interfaces induces a macroscopic wetting transition from finite contact angles (˜10°) with to near-zero contact angles without divalent cations. We developed a quantitative model based on DLVO theory to demonstrate that this transition, which is observed on model clay surfaces, mica, but not on silica surfaces nor for monovalent K+ and Na+ cations is driven by charge reversal of the solid-liquid interface. Small amounts of a polar hydrocarbon, stearic acid, added to the ambient decane synergistically enhance the effect and lead to water contact angles up to 70° in the presence of Ca2+. Our results imply that it is the removal of divalent cations that makes reservoir rocks more hydrophilic, suggesting a generalizable strategy to control wettability and an explanation for the success of so-called low salinity water flooding, a recent enhanced oil recovery technology.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10519
Number of pages8
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • hydration forces
  • surfaces
  • recovery
  • wettability
  • interfaces
  • membranes
  • charge
  • layer

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