Visualizing oil displacement with foam in a microfluidic device with permeability contrast†
Foam mobility control and novel oil displacement mechanisms were observed in a microfluidic device representing a porous media system with layered permeability. Foam was pre-generated using a flow-focusing microfluidic device and injected into an oil-wet, oil-saturated 2-D PDMS microfluidic device. The device is designed with a central fracture flanked by high-permeability and low-permeability zones stratified in the direction of injection. A 1 : 1, 1% blend of alpha olefin sulfonate 14–16 (AOS) and lauryl betaine (LB) surfactants produced stable foam in the presence of paraffin oil. The oil saturation and pressure drop across the microfluidic device were measured as a function of time and the injected pore volume, indicating an increase in apparent viscosity for foam with an accompanying decrease in oil saturation. In contrast to the control experiments, foam was shown to more effectively mobilize trapped oil by increasing the flow resistance in the fracture and high-permeability zones and by diverting the surfactant solution into adjacent low-permeability zones. The foam was observed to separate into gas-rich and aqueous-rich phases depending on matrix permeability, suggesting that it is not appropriate to treat foam as a homogeneous dispersion of gas and liquid.