Elastic Turbulence Generates Anomalous Flow Resistance in Porous Media

Christopher A. Browne, Sujit S. Datta

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

37 Scopus citations


Polymer solutions are often injected in porous media for applications such as oil recovery and groundwater remediation. In many cases, the macroscopic flow resistance abruptly increases above a threshold flow rate in a porous medium, but not in bulk solution. The reason why has been a puzzle for over half a century. Here, by directly visualizing the flow in a transparent 3D porous medium, we demonstrate that this anomalous increase is due to the onset of an elastic instability in which the flow exhibits strong spatio-temporal fluctuations reminiscent of inertial turbulence, despite the vanishingly small Reynolds number. We find that the transition to unstable flow in each pore is continuous, arising due to the increased persistence of discrete bursts of instability above an onset flow rate; however, this onset value varies from pore to pore. Thus, unstable flow is spatially heterogeneous across the different pores of the medium, with unstable and laminar regions coexisting. Guided by these findings, we quantitatively establish that the energy dissipated by unstable pore-scale fluctuations generates the anomalous increase in flow resistance through the entire medium. Thus, by linking the onset of unstable flow at the pore scale to transport at the macroscale, our work provides generally-applicable guidelines for predicting and controlling polymer solution flows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2021 AIChE Annual Meeting
PublisherAmerican Institute of Chemical Engineers
ISBN (Electronic)9781713852834
StatePublished - 2021
Event2021 AIChE Annual Meeting - Boston, Virtual, United States
Duration: Nov 15 2021Nov 19 2021

Publication series

NameAIChE Annual Meeting, Conference Proceedings


Conference2021 AIChE Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBoston, Virtual

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General
  • General Medicine


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