Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Correlation Between Foam Flow Structure in Porous Media and Surfactant Formulation Properties


The optimization of foam injection in porous media for enhanced oil recovery or soil remediation requires a large screening of surfactant formulations. Tests of foam stability in vials often used quick criteria to accelerate selection and ensure performance in porous media. Using a selection of surfactant formulations of different chemistry and foam behaviors, the correlation between foam in vials and in porous media is investigated. Along with foam stability, foamability which quantifies the ability to create foam is shown to play a role in the maximum apparent viscosity. This is a first evidence that foamability is a key parameter for the maximum apparent viscosity reached in a steady state of apparent viscosity. To account for the relative contribution of foamability and foam stability, a parameter is inspired from the widely accepted model of population balance. These results support a workflow based on large foam screening in a first step and sandpack experiments in a second step, prior to more representative but longer coreflood tests. Finally, these experimental data emphasize the relevance of population balance simulations as a description based on experimental measurement. Second, the flow visualization in the sandpack allows the extraction of a local velocity of the liquid in the flowing foam. This parameter gives an experimental evidence that the transition between the high-quality and low-quality regime corresponds to a change in the efficiency of foam lamellae network to transport gas concomitantly to liquid. The local liquid velocity also represents an indirect and easy measurement of flow structure, and it is shown to change from one formulation to another. This observation highlights the complex relation between local microstructure and physical chemistry of surfactants.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13


  1. 1.

    Note that in a WAG injection, we may consider that water saturation Sw is high and does not depend significantly on gas fraction due to the very high mobility of gas.

  2. 2.

    Provided the ratio fw/αw does not significantly depend on gas fraction, which was evidenced by Tang and Kovscek (2006).

  3. 3.

    This is explained by the fact that liquid flows more rapidly in lamellae network than gas trapped in the foam.


f g :

Gas fraction

fg :

Gas fraction recalculated at different positions in sandpack to account for compressibility effect

f g * :

Gas fraction for maximum of apparent viscosity

f g 0 :

Gas fraction at the outlet of sandpack (7 bars)

H0 :


K :

Permeability of sandpack

L :

Length of sandpack

N :

Number of lamellae

P atm :

Atmospheric pressure

P BP :

Back pressure

P flow :

Pressure created by the foam flow

Q g :

Gas flow rate

Q liq :

Liquid flow rate

S :

Sandpack section

Smobile :

Average section where foam lamellae are flowing

Sw :

Average section saturated with water

t 1/2 :

Foam half-life time (stability)

v gas :

Average velocity of gas in a bubble

v i :

Interstitial velocity

vi :

Interstitial velocity recalculated at different positions in sandpack to account for compressibility effect

v lamellae :

Velocity of a foam lamellae, as defined by the velocity of the air/liquid interface of a flowing lamellae

v liq :

Liquid velocity as measured by dyed liquid velocity

α mobile :

Ratio of flowing lamellae over total lamellae

η app :

Apparent viscosity of foam

η water :

Viscosity of water

Φ :



  1. Almajid, M.M., Kovscek, A.R.: Pore-level mechanics of foam generation and coalescence in the presence of oil. Adv. Colloid Interface Sci. (2015).

  2. Bartsch, O.: Über Schaumsysteme. Kolloidchemische Beihefte 20, 1–49 (1924)

  3. Blaker, T., Celius, H.K., Lie, T., Martinsen, H.A., Rasmussen, L., Vassenden, F.: Foam for gas mobility control in the Snorre field: the FAWAG project. In: SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition. Society of Petroleum Engineers, Houston (1999)

  4. Bretherton, F.P.: The motion of long bubbles in tubes. J. Fluid Mech. 10, 166 (1961).

  5. Cantat, I., Cohen-Addad, S., Emias, F., Graner, F., Hohler, R., Pitois, O., Rouyer, F., Saint-Jalmes, A., Flatman, R., Cox, S.: Foams: Structure and Dynamics. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2013). ISBN: 978-0-19-966289-0 0-19-966289-4 978-0-19-966289-0 978-0-19-150545-4

  6. Chabert, M., Nabzar, L., Cuenca, A., Beunat, V., Chevallier, E.: Improved mobility reduction of non dense gas foam in presence of high residual oil saturation. Presented at the April 14 (2015)

  7. Chambers, K.T., Radke, C.J.: Capillary phenomena in foam flow through porous media. Interfacial Phenom. Pet. Recovery 36, 191 (1991)

  8. Chevallier, E., Chabert, M., Gautier, S., Ghafram, H., Khaburi, S., Alkindi, A.: Design of a combined foam EOR process for a naturally fractured reservoir. Presented at the OGWA Conference (2018)

  9. Cuenca, A., Lacombe, E., Morvan, M., Le Drogo, V., Giordanengo, R., Chabert, M., Delamaide, E.: Design of thermally stable surfactants formulations for steam foam injection (2014).

  10. Delamaide, E., Cuenca, A., Chabert, M.: State of the art review of the steam foam process. In: SPE Latin America and Caribbean Heavy and Extra Heavy Oil Conference. Society of Petroleum Engineers, Lima (2016)

  11. Dong, P., Puerto, M., Ma, K., Mateen, K., Ren, G., Bourdarot, G., Morel, D., Biswal, S.L., Hirasaki, G.: Ultralow-interfacial-tension foam injection strategy investigation in high temperature ultra-high salinity fractured carbonate reservoirs. Presented at the IOR Tulsa (2018)

  12. Falls, A.H., Hirasaki, G.J., Patzek, T.W., Gauglitz, D.A., Miller, D.D., Ratulowski, T.: Development of a mechanistic foam simulator: the population balance and generation by snap-off. SPE Reserv. Eng. 3, 884–892 (1988).

  13. Farajzadeh, R., Wassing, L.B.M., Boerrigter, P.M.: Foam assisted gas oil gravity drainage in naturally-fractured reservoirs. In: SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition. Society of Petroleum Engineers, Florence (2010)

  14. Farajzadeh, R., Vincent-Bonnieu, S., Bourada Bourada, N.: Effect of gas permeability and solubility on foam. J. Soft Matter 2014, 1–7 (2014).

  15. Hourtane, V., Bodiguel, H., Colin, A.: Dense bubble traffic in microfluidic loops: selection rules and clogging. Phys. Rev. E 93, 032607 (2016).

  16. Jones, S.A., van der Bent, V., Farajzadeh, R., Rossen, W.R., Vincent-Bonnieu, S.: Surfactant screening for foam EOR: correlation between bulk and core-flood experiments. Colloids Surf. A Physicochem. Eng. Asp. 500, 166–176 (2016).

  17. Jones, S.A., Getrouw, N., Vincent-Bonnieu, S.: Foam flow in a model porous medium: II. The effect of trapped gas. Soft Matter 14, 3497–3503 (2018).

  18. Kovscek, A.R., Radke, C.J., Engineering, U. of C.D. of C., Division, L.B.L.E.S., United States. Department of Energy, B.E.R.C.: Fundamentals of Foam Transport in Porous Media-: Topical Report. Bartlesville Project Office, U.S. Department of Energy (1993)

  19. Kovscek, A.R., Patzek, T.W., Radke, C.J.: A mechanistic population balance model for transient and steady-state foam flow in Boise sandstone. Chem. Eng. Sci. 50, 3783–3799 (1995).

  20. Kovscek, A.R., Tang, G.-Q., Radke, C.J.: Verification of roof snap off as a foam-generation mechanism in porous media at steady state. Colloids Surf. A Physicochem. Eng. Asp. 302, 251–260 (2007).

  21. Li, Z., Song, X., Wang, Q., Zhang, L., Guo, P., Li, X.: Enhance foam flooding pilot test in Chengdong Of Shengli Oilfield: laboratory experiment and field performance. In: International Petroleum Technology Conference. International Petroleum Technology Conference, Doha (2009)

  22. Mast, R.F.: Microscopic behavior of foam in porous media (1972).

  23. Moradi-Araghi, A., Johnston, E.L., Zornes, D.R., Harpole, K.J.: Laboratory evaluation of surfactants for CO2-foam applications at the South Cowden Unit. Presented at the (1997)

  24. Nakagaki, M.: Studies on foams. (I). The foaminess and foam stability of liquid mixtures. Bull. Chem. Soc. Jpn. 21, 30–36 (1948).

  25. Osei-Bonsu, K., Grassia, P., Shokri, N.: Investigation of foam flow in a 3D printed porous medium in the presence of oil. J. Colloid Interface Sci. 490, 850–858 (2017).

  26. Osterloh, W., Jante Jr., M.: Effects of gas and liquid velocity on steady-state foam flow at high temperature. Presented at the SPE/DOE Enhanced Oil Recovery Symposium (1992)

  27. Owete, O.S., Brigham, W.E.: Flow behavior of foam: a porous micromodel study. SPE Reserv. Eng. 2, 315–323 (1987).

  28. Radke, C.J., Gillis, J.V.: A dual gas tracer technique for determining trapped gas saturation during steady foam flow in porous media (1990).

  29. Saint-Jalmes, A., Langevin, D.: Time evolution of aqueous foams: drainage and coarsening. J. Phys. Condens. Matter 14, 9397–9412 (2002).

  30. Tang, G.-Q., Kovscek, A.R.: Trapped gas fraction during steady-state foam flow. Transp. Porous Media 65, 287–307 (2006).

  31. Van der Bent, V.: Comparative Study of Foam Stability in Bulk and Porous Media. Tu Delft (2014)

  32. Zhang, Z.F., Freedman, V.L., Zhong, L.: Foam Transport in Porous Media—A Review (2009).

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Eloïse Chevallier.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (PDF 145 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chevallier, E., Demazy, N., Cuenca, A. et al. Correlation Between Foam Flow Structure in Porous Media and Surfactant Formulation Properties. Transp Porous Med 131, 43–63 (2020).

Download citation


  • Foam
  • Surfactant
  • Local velocity
  • Apparent viscosity
  • Gas mobility
  • Formulation
  • Workflow
  • Sandpack
  • Lamellae
  • Strong foam
  • Diphasic flow
  • Oil
  • EOR
  • Soil remediation
  • Mobility reduction
  • Bulk foam