Chip-off-the-old-rock: the study of reservoir-relevant geological processes with real-rock micromodels†
We present a real-rock micromodel approach whereby microfluidic channels are fabricated in a naturally occurring mineral substrate. The method is applied to quantify calcite dissolution which is relevant to oil/gas recovery, CO2 sequestration, and wastewater disposal in carbonate formations – ubiquitous worldwide. The key advantage of this method is the inclusion of both the relevant substrate chemistry (not possible with conventional microfluidics) and real-time pore-scale resolution (not possible with core samples). Here, microchannels are etched into a natural calcite crystal and sealed with a glass slide. The approach is applied to study acidified brine flow through a single channel and a two-dimensional micromodel. The single-channel case conforms roughly to a 1-D analytical description, with crystal orientation influencing the local dissolution rate an additional 25%. The two-dimensional experiments show highly flow-directed dissolution and associated positive feedback wherein acid preferentially invades high conductivity flow paths, resulting in higher dissolution rates (‘wormholing’). These experiments demonstrate and validate the approach of microfabricating fluid structures within natural minerals for transport and geochemical studies. More broadly, real-rock microfluidics open the door to a vast array of lab-on-a-chip opportunities in geology, reservoir engineering, and earth sciences.