Intermittent flow and transient congestions of soft spheres passing narrow orifices†
Soft, low-friction particles in silos show peculiar features during their discharge. The outflow velocity and the clogging probability both depend upon the momentary silo fill height, in sharp contrast to silos filled with hard particles. The reason is the fill-height dependence of the pressure at the orifice. We study the statistics of silo discharge of soft hydrogel spheres. The outflow is found to become increasingly fluctuating and even intermittent with decreasing orifice size, and with decreasing fill height. In orifices narrower than two particle diameters, outflow can stop completely, but in contrast to clogs formed by rigid particles, these congestions may dissolve spontaneously. We analyze such non-permanent congestions and attribute them to slow reorganization processes in the container, caused by viscoelasticity of the material.