Computational Geosciences

, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 881–908 | Cite as

A phase-field method for the direct simulation of two-phase flows in pore-scale media using a non-equilibrium wetting boundary condition



Advances in pore-scale imaging (e.g., μ-CT scanning), increasing availability of computational resources, and recent developments in numerical algorithms have started rendering direct pore-scale numerical simulations of multi-phase flow on pore structures feasible. Quasi-static methods, where the viscous and the capillary limit are iterated sequentially, fall short in rigorously capturing crucial flow phenomena at the pore scale. Direct simulation techniques are needed that account for the full coupling between capillary and viscous flow phenomena. Consequently, there is a strong demand for robust and effective numerical methods that can deliver high-accuracy, high-resolution solutions of pore-scale flow in a computationally efficient manner. Direct simulations of pore-scale flow on imaged volumes can yield important insights about physical phenomena taking place during multi-phase, multi-component displacements. Such simulations can be utilized for optimizing various enhanced oil recovery (EOR) schemes and permit the computation of effective properties for Darcy-scale multi-phase flows.

We implement a phase-field model for the direct pore-scale simulation of incompressible flow of two immiscible fluids. The model naturally lends itself to the transport of fluids with large density and viscosity ratios. In the phase-field approach, the fluid-phase interfaces are expressed in terms of thin transition regions, the so-called diffuse interfaces, for increased computational efficiency. The conservation law of mass for binary mixtures leads to the advective Cahn–Hilliard equation and the condition that the velocity field is divergence free. Momentum balance, on the other hand, leads to the Navier–Stokes equations for Newtonian fluids modified for two-phase flow and coupled to the advective Cahn–Hilliard equation. Unlike the volume of fluid (VoF) and level-set methods, which rely on regularization techniques to describe the phase interfaces, the phase-field method facilitates a thermodynamic treatment of the phase interfaces, rendering it more physically consistent for the direct simulations of two-phase pore-scale flow. A novel geometric wetting (wall) boundary condition is implemented as part of the phase-field method for the simulation of two-fluid flows with moving contact lines. The geometric boundary condition accurately replicates the prescribed equilibrium contact angle and is extended to account for dynamic (non-equilibrium) effects. The coupled advective Cahn–Hilliard and modified Navier–Stokes (phase-field) system is solved by using a robust and accurate semi-implicit finite volume method. An extension of the momentum balance equations is also implemented for Herschel–Bulkley (non-Newtonian) fluids. Non-equilibrium-induced two-phase flow problems and dynamic two-phase flows in simple two-dimensional (2-D) and three-dimensional (3-D) geometries are investigated to validate the model and its numerical implementation. Quantitative comparisons are made for cases with analytical solutions. Two-phase flow in an idealized 2-D pore-scale conduit is simulated to demonstrate the viability of the proposed direct numerical simulation approach.


Phase-field method Two-phase flow Pore-scale flow simulation  CFD Digital rock Finite volume method Thermodynamics Contact line motion  Dynamic contact angle Wetting 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Faruk O. Alpak
    • 1
  • Beatrice Riviere
    • 2
  • Florian Frank
    • 2
  1. 1.Shell International Exploration & Production Inc.HoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Computational and Applied MathematicsRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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