Pore-Scale Flow Characterization of Polymer Solutions in Microfluidic Porous Media

Christopher A. Browne, Audrey Shih, Sujit S. Datta

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Polymer solutions are frequently used in enhanced oil recovery and groundwater remediation to improve the recovery of trapped nonaqueous fluids. However, applications are limited by an incomplete understanding of the flow in porous media. The tortuous pore structure imposes both shear and extension, which elongates polymers; moreover, the flow is often at large Weissenberg numbers, Wi, at which polymer elasticity in turn strongly alters the flow. This dynamic elongation can even produce flow instabilities with strong spatial and temporal fluctuations despite the low Reynolds number, Re. Unfortunately, macroscopic approaches are limited in their ability to characterize the pore-scale flow. Thus, understanding how polymer conformations, flow dynamics, and pore geometry together determine these nontrivial flow patterns and impact macroscopic transport remains an outstanding challenge. This review describes how microfluidic tools can shed light on the physics underlying the flow of polymer solutions in porous media at high Wi and low Re. Specifically, microfluidic studies elucidate how steady and unsteady flow behavior depends on pore geometry and solution properties, and how polymer-induced effects impact nonaqueous fluid recovery. This work thus provides new insights for polymer dynamics, non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, and applications such as enhanced oil recovery and groundwater remediation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1903944
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • General Materials Science
  • Biomaterials


  • elastic turbulence
  • flow instabilities
  • microfluidics
  • polymers
  • porous media


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