PoreLab lecture on “Flow in porous materials: a tale of X-rays, minimal surfaces and wettability”

Title : Flow in porous materials: a tale of X-rays, minimal surfaces and wettability

Speaker: Professor Martin Blunt

Affiliation: Department of Earth Science & Engineering at Imperial College London

When: 7 October from 12 to 13

Where: online (see below)


I will provide an overview of the current revolution in our understanding of flow, transport and reaction processes in porous media, enabled by 3D imaging from the nanometre scale upwards, microfluidics, and improved numerical methods.  This will be illustrated by examples from work at Imperial College London on multiphase flow in rocks with application to carbon dioxide storage and oil recovery.  X-rays are used to image flow processes in rocks at a spatial resolution of down to 1µm and a time resolution between 1-1,000 s.  These experiments can be used to measure traditional multiphase flow properties – relative permeability and capillary pressure – while providing pore-scale insight into displacement processes.  We show how an accurate characterization of wettability, or the local distribution of contact angle, enables us to understand flow and trapping, and explain the circumstances which are optimal for storage or recovery applications.  The experiments also provide a wealth of data to calibrate and validate pore-to-core scale flow and transport models.

We will look at non-linear viscous effects in multiphase flow properties and show that at moderate flow rates a power-law relationship between flow rate and pressure gradient emerges.  The onset of this regime can be accurately predicted using a simple energy balance.

The talk will end with a discussion of how the same ideas can be used to understand and design processes in a wide variety of porous materials, including gas diffusion layers in fuel cells and surgical masks.


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