Crude oils are complex mixtures of hydrocarbons with nonpolar n-paraffins and polar asphaltenes. Fresh crude is relatively mobile since it is stored at very high pressure and temperature. When it has to be transported to longer distances, the ambient conditions are lower temperature and pressure. This causes the crude oil to form wax crystals on the pipeline walls from where it is being carried, produced, or stored. Crude oil flow improvers act as catalysts in reducing viscosity, depressing the pour point, and lowering the drag coefficient of crude oil. Crude oil flow improvers are also termed as drag-reducing agents (DRA).
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Thus by using crude oil flow improvers or DRAs, increased flow can be achieved using the same pressure or decreased pressure and flow rate. Crude oil flow improvers consist of long-chain hydrocarbon polymers, which acts as flow turbulence inhibitors along the pipeline walls to decrease the amount of energy lost in turbulent activity. In some cases where the pipeline carrying crude oil or where it is stored is shut for a prolonged period of time, the cooled crude oil in it slowly develops a gel structure which results in high yield stress. Crude oil flow improvers also help restart pipeline (onshore /offshore crude oil transportation assets).
Crude Oil Flow Improvers: Market Dynamics and Trends
The fluctuating viscosity and drag coefficient of crude oil are two of the major factors to consider when maintaining the uniform flow of crude oil. Crude oil flow improvers help achieving/maintain these factors at a constant level wherein energy and capital expenditure is less, with a desired result of smooth-flow crude.
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Crude oils with high proportion of sulfur (heavy/sour crude) have API gravity higher 20, meaning the turbulence level is low. Those with a low content of sulfur (light/sweet crude) have API gravities of less than 20, thus turbulence level is high. Crude oil flow improvers help maintain the flow by varying the API gravities of the crude oil.