Solvent Diffusion and Dispersion in Partially Saturated Porous Media: An Experimental and Numerical Pore-Level Study

Mohammadmoradi, P., Taheri, S., Bryant, S.L., and Kantzas, A.

DOI: 10.1016/j.ces.2018.06.072
Chemical Engineering Science, 191, June 2018.


Recent research on unlocking the solvent dispersion as a physical blending process in porous media has been mainly focused on core-scale observations. Pore-level studies of multiphase displacements can help to develop models that correlate rock macro-scale characteristics with its small-scale features, particularly for unsaturated rocks where the intricate fluid arrangements cause dynamic events to be localized in preferential pathways. In this work, to draw new insights into the physics of pore-level interfaces and crystallize the role of small-scale phenomena on the efficiency of solvent-aided bitumen recovery processes, numerical simulations coupled with experiments are conducted in pore-level domains. We simulate fluid flow and transport phenomena through millimeter-sized three-dimensional slabs of consolidated and unconsolidated packings of grains representing the geological rock types of the McMurray formation. We propose a robust numerical workflow for simulation of miscible-floods in unsaturated porous media and investigate the impact of matrix heterogeneity, connate water, cementation, and injection velocity on the longitudinal dispersion coefficient. In particular, primary drainage is simulated at low capillary numbers resulting in two-phase fluid occupancies through pore space domains. Finite element simulations are then carried out in order to solve the mixing advection-diffusion equations within the water-free pore space, and lastly, the effluent history is analyzed to predict the dispersion coefficient in both fully- and partially-saturated conditions and evaluate the efficiency of miscible displacements in the presence of microheterogeneities. A new analytical model for calculation of dispersivity, together with the numerical simulation results, is utilized to adjust a general model for the prediction of longitudinal dispersion coefficient in unsaturated sandy porous media of either uniform or non-uniform grains. Moreover, miscible-flood experiments at low to high injection velocities are conducted in a transparent glass micromodel. According to the results, rock micro-heterogeneities and immobile water both increase the longitudinal dispersion coefficient, and two-phase equilibria control the velocity field by creating connected regions of brine and low resistance oil-filled channels and consequently influence the solute transport and mixing processes. The effect of viscosity contrast on the longitudinal dispersion coefficient is also noteworthy, as the viscous fingering at unfavorable viscosity ratios widens the mixing zone.

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