Understanding how fluids move through porous media is of great importance. Much of the water we rely on comes from groundwater which passes through soils. For a significant part of our energy needs we must extract oil and gas from the subsurface. In addition, some of the most promising proposed methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere rely on injecting CO2 back into porous media in the subsurface, where it can be trapped forever. Similarly, many industrial processes that provide essential products or clean our air and water supplies rely on passing fluids through engineered porous media. Virtually all of these flows are complex, because they can involve multiple fluids interacting with highly heterogeneous porous geometries. While scientists have a reasonable understanding of how a single fluid might move through such systems, when two different fluids are involved our predictive skills deteriorate significantly. And yet, understanding and better predicting these flows will enhance our ability to improve access to clean water, extract and use energy resources more efficiently, protect our future environment and design more effective industrial processes. This project focuses on such complex flows. By combining state of the art experiments and theory, the investigators will develop and enhance our current understanding of multiphase flows through porous media and develop novel methods and models to predict their complex behaviors. Graduate and undergraduate students will receive training as part of this research effort, and a high resolution, high fidelity visual teaching experience on environmental fluid mechanics will be developed in collaboration with Notre Dame's Digital Visualization Theater and shared openly with other institutions.
A coordinated experimental and numerical program will be undertaken to advance understanding of and ability to model transport in multi-phase flows in 2D and 3D porous media. Particle tracking in both single- and multi-phase flow in 2D and 3D porous models across viscous and inertial flow regimes will be conducted leveraging a novel refractive-index-matching approach. Additionally, to enable a broader and more efficient sweep of the parameter space, a complementary series of cutting edge Lattice Boltzmann simulations, validated with experimental data, will be conducted. These innovative experiments and simulations, tightly coupled to state-of-the-art transport modeling, will validate and advance modeling strategies, transforming our understanding of intermittency in single- and multi-phase flows in 2D and 3D porous media and improving predictions of transport processes at the macro-scale for a range of engineering and environmental applications.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.