Origin of anomalous polymer-induced fluid displacement in porous media


Parsa, S. ; Santanach-Carreras, E. ; Xiao, L. ; Weitz, D. A. Origin of anomalous polymer-induced fluid displacement in porous media. Physical Review Fluids 2020, 5 022001. Copy at http://www.tinyurl.com/yxu2znhe
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Immiscible displacement of fluids with large viscosity mismatch is inherently unstable due to viscous fingering, even in porous media where capillary forces dominate. Adding polymer to the displacing fluid reduces the viscosity mismatch and suppresses the viscous fingering instability thereby increasing the fluid displacement leading to extensive use in applications such as oil recovery. Surprisingly, however, an increase in displacement occurs even for very large viscosity mismatches. Moreover, significant additional displacement is observed when the polymer solution is followed by additional water flow. Thus, the fundamental physics of this phenomenon remains unclear. To understand this behavior, we use confocal microscopy to visualize the displacement of oil in a three-dimensional micromodel of a porous medium and simultaneously measure the local flow velocities of the displacing fluid. We find that the increased displacement results from a counterintuitive effect: polymer retention in the medium and the resultant local changes in flow. Typically retention is avoided since it reduces the permeability of the medium; instead, we find that large and heterogeneous local changes in flow lead to sufficiently large enough viscous forces at the interface of the immiscible fluids resulting in increased displacement.

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