Investigation of local mixing and its influence on core scale mixing (dispersion)
Local displacement efficiency in miscible floods is significantly affected by mixing taking place in the medium. Laboratory experiments usually measure flow-averaged ("cup mixed") effluent concentration histories. The core-scale averaged mixing, termed as dispersion, is used to quantify mixing in flow through porous media. The dispersion coefficient has the contributions of convective spreading and diffusion lumped together. Despite decades of research there remain questions about the nature and origin of dispersion. The main objective of this research is to understand the basic physics of solute transport and mixing at the pore scale and to use this information to explain core-scale mixing behavior (dispersion). We use two different approaches to study the interaction between convective spreading and diffusion for a range of flow conditions and the influence of their interaction on dispersion. In the first approach, we perform a direct numerical simulation of pore scale solute transport (by solving the Navier Stokes and convection diffusion equations) in a surrogate pore space. The second approach tracks movement of solute particles through a network model that is physically representative of real granular material. The first approach is useful in direct visualization of mixing in pore space whereas the second approach helps quantify the effect of pore scale process on core scale mixing (dispersion). Mixing in porous media results from interaction between convective spreading and molecular diffusion. The converging-diverging flow around sand grains causes the solute front to stretch, split and rejoin. In this process the area of contact between regions of high and low solute concentrations increases by an order of magnitude. Diffusion tends to reduce local variations in solute concentration inside the pore body. If the fluid velocity is small, diffusion is able to homogenize the solute concentration inside each pore. On the other hand, in the limit of very large fluid velocity (or no diffusion) local mixing because of diffusion tends to zero and dispersion is entirely caused by convective spreading. Flow reversal provides insights about mixing mechanisms in flow through porous media. For purely convective transport, upon flow reversal solute particles retrace their path to the inlet. Convective spreading cancels and echo dispersion is zero. Diffusion, even though small in magnitude, causes local mixing and makes dispersion in porous media irreversible. Echo dispersion in porous media is far greater than diffusion and as large as forward (transmission) dispersion. In the second approach, we study dispersion in porous media by tracking movement of a swarm of solute particles through a physically representative network model. We developed deterministic rules to trace paths of solute particles through the network. These rules yield flow streamlines through the network comparable to those obtained from a full solution of Stokes' equation. In the absence of diffusion the paths of all solute particles are completely determined and reversible. We track the movement of solute particles on these paths to investigate dispersion caused by purely convective spreading at the pore scale. Then we superimpose diffusion and study its influence on dispersion. In this way we obtain for the first time an unequivocal assessment of the roles of convective spreading and diffusion in hydrodynamic dispersion through porous media. Alternative particle tracking algorithms that use a probabilistic choice of an out-flowing throat at a pore fail to quantify convective spreading accurately. For Fickian behavior of dispersion it is essential that all solute particles encounter a wide range of independent (and identically distributed) velocities. If plug flow occurs in the pore throats a solute particle can encounter a wide range of independent velocities because of velocity differences in pore throats and randomness of pore structure. Plug flow leads to a purely convective spreading that is asymptotically Fickian. Diffusion superimposed on plug flow acts independently of convective spreading causing dispersion to be simply the sum of convective spreading and diffusion. In plug flow hydrodynamic dispersion varies linearly with the pore-scale Peclet number. For a more realistic parabolic velocity profile in pore throats particles near the solid surface of the medium do not have independent velocities. Now purely convective spreading is non-Fickian. When diffusion is non-zero, solute particles can move away from the low velocity region near the solid surface into the main flow stream and subsequently dispersion again becomes asymptotically Fickian. Now dispersion is the result of an interaction between convection and diffusion and it results in a weak nonlinear dependence of dispersion on Peclet number. The dispersion coefficients predicted by particle tracking through the network are in excellent agreement with the literature experimental data. We conclude that the essential phenomena giving rise to hydrodynamic dispersion observed in porous media are (i) stream splitting of the solute front at every pore, thus causing independence of particle velocities purely by convection, (ii) a velocity gradient within throats and (iii) diffusion. Taylor's dispersion in a capillary tube accounts for only the second and third of these phenomena, yielding a quadratic dependence of dispersion on Peclet number. Plug flow in the bonds of a physically representative network accounts for the only the first and third phenomena, resulting in a linear dependence of dispersion upon Peclet number.