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Complex flow dynamics in porous media

Scientists developed accurate models of complex flow phenomena relevant to a number of environmental and energy fields.
Complex flow dynamics in porous media
Water flowing through an aqueduct is a relatively simple transport phenomenon well described by mathematical equations and physical laws. Deriving accurate system models for complex flow phenomena of substances in more than one phase travelling through porous materials is a highly complicated task. However, it is a critically important one in applications as varied as soil remediation, oil recovery and carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration.

Scientists initiated the EU-funded project REAL PORE FLOWS to develop models of pore-scale transport phenomena for two cases. Researchers studied isothermal evaporation of volatile hydrocarbons (volatile organic compounds (VOCs)) from porous media as well as the dynamics of immiscible flows of non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLs). VOCs are found in natural gas and crude oil whereas NAPLs are common liquid contaminants of water.

An accurate description of isothermal evaporation of VOCs during drying has to account for several factors. These include bulk liquid and gas phase distribution patterns as well as the liquid films that form on the pore walls as the bulk gas phase passes. Observations and experimental measurements enabled scientists to delineate three distinct regions of drying space. This resulted in a pore network model accounting for all major transport mechanisms within the porous medium, including diffusion across the outer surface.

In the case of NAPLs, scientists developed a model of immiscible displacement (simultaneous movement of the other liquid and water) through a porous medium. The NAPL is modelled as blobs flowing under the combined action of capillary, viscous and gravity forces. Under different conditions, the process is governed by the coalescing and breaking up of blobs. Scientists identified three flow regimes and the corresponding model demonstrated good agreement with recent experimental and theoretical work.

REAL PORE FLOWS has contributed complex and accurate medium-scale models of the flow of immiscible fluids in porous media. This has direct relevance to a number of environmental and energy applications. Detailed descriptions should help resolve important problems and challenges in many fields.

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