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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Scaling the impacts of pore-scale characteristics on unstable supercritical CO2-water drainage using a complete capillary number


Geological carbon storage in deep aquifers involves displacement of resident brine by supercritical CO2 (scCO2), which is an unstable drainage process caused by the invasion of less viscous scCO2. The unstable drainage is greatly complicated by aquifer heterogeneity and anisotropy and regarded as one of the key factors accounting for the uncertainty in storage capacity estimates. The impacts of pore-scale characteristics on the unstable drainage remain poorly understood. In this study, scCO2 drainage experiments were conducted at 40 °C and 9 MPa using a homogeneous elliptical micromodel with low or high anisotropy, a homogeneous/isotropic hexagonal micromodel, and a heterogeneous sandstone-analog micromodel. Each initially water-saturated micromodel was invaded by scCO2 at different rates with logCa (the capillary number)ranging from −7.6 to −4.4, and scCO2/water images were obtained. The measured CO2 saturations in these centimeter-scale micromodels vary considerably from 0.08 to 0.93 depending on the pore-scale characteristics and capillary number. It was also observed that scCO2 drainage follows the classic flow-regime transition from capillary fingering through crossover to viscous fingering for either of the low-anisotropy elliptical and heterogeneous micromodels, but with disparate crossover zones. The crossover zones of scCO2 saturation were then unified with the minimum scCO2 saturation occurring at logCa*=-4.0 using the complete capillary number (Ca*)that considers pore characteristics. For the hexagonal and the high-anisotropy elliptical micromodels, a monotonic increase in scCO2 saturation with increasing Ca* (without crossover)was observed. It appears that the complete capillary number is more appropriate than the classic capillary number when characterizing flow regimes and CO2 saturation in different pore networks.

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