Hypothesis Multiphase flow through porous media is important in a number of industrial, natural and biological processes. One application is enhanced oil recovery (EOR), where a resident oil phase is displaced by a Newtonian or polymeric fluid. In EOR, the two-phase immiscible displacement through heterogonous porous media is usually governed by competing viscous and capillary forces, expressed through a Capillary number Ca, and viscosity ratio of the displacing and displaced fluid. However, when viscoelastic displacement fluids are used, elastic forces in the displacement fluid also become significant. It is hypothesized that elastic instabilities are responsible for enhanced oil recovery through an elastic microsweep mechanism. Experiments In this work, we use a simplified geometry in the form of a pillared microchannel. We analyze the trapped residual oil size distribution after displacement by a Newtonian fluid, a nearly inelastic shear thinning fluid, and viscoelastic polymers and surfactant solutions. Findings We find that viscoelastic polymers and surfactant solutions can displace more oil compared to Newtonian fluids and nearly inelastic shear thinning polymers at similar Ca numbers. Beyond a critical Ca number, the size of residual oil blobs decreases significantly for viscoelastic fluids. This critical Ca number directly corresponds to flow rates where elastic instabilities occur in single phase flow, suggesting a close link between enhancement of oil recovery and appearance of elastic instabilities.
- Displacement fluid
- Enhanced oil recovery
- Oil droplet size distribution
- Viscoelastic instability