Bubble nucleation and growth in nanochannels
We apply micro- and nanofluidics to study fundamental phase change behaviour at nanoscales, as relevant to shale gas/oil production. We investigate hydrocarbon phase transition in sub-100 nm channels under conditions that mimic the pressure drawdown process. Measured cavitation pressures are compared with those predicted from the nucleation theory. We find that cavitation pressure in the nanochannels corresponds closer to the spinodal limit than that predicted from classical nucleation theory. This deviation indicates that hydrocarbons remain in the liquid phase in nano-sized pores under pressures much lower than the saturation pressure. Depending on the initial nucleation location – along the channel or at the end – two types of bubble growth dynamics were observed. Bubble growth was measured experimentally at different nucleation conditions, and results agree with a fluid dynamics model including evaporation rate, instantaneous bulk liquid velocity, and bubble pressure. Collectively these results demonstrate, characterize, and quantify isothermal bubble nucleation and growth of a pure substance in nanochannels.