Fast Advective Water Flow Through Nanochannels in Clay Interlayers: Implications for Moisture Transport in Soils and Unconventional Oil/Gas Production

TA Ho and YF Wang and CFJ Colon and EN Coker, ACS APPLIED NANO MATERIALS, 3, 11897-11905 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.0c02464

Water flow in nanometer or sub-nanometer hydrophilic channels bears special importance in diverse fields of science and engineering. However, the nature of such water flow remains elusive. Here, we report our molecular-modeling results on water flow in a sub-nanometer clay interlayer between two montmorillonite layers. We show that a fast advective flow can be induced by evaporation at one end of the interlayer channel, that is, a large suction pressure created by evaporation (similar to 818 MPa) is able to drive the fast water flow through the channel (similar to 0.88 m/s for a 46 angstrom-long channel). Scaled up for the pressure gradient to a 2 mu m particle, the velocity of water is estimated to be about 95 mu m/s, indicating that water can quickly flow through a mu m-sized clay particle within seconds. The prediction seems to be confirmed by our thermogravimetric analysis of bentonite hydration and dehydration processes, which indicates that water transport at the early stage of the dehydration is a fast advective process, followed by a slow diffusion process. The possible occurrence of a fast advective water flow in clay interlayers prompts us to reassess water transport in a broad set of natural and engineered systems such as clay swelling/shrinking, moisture transport in soils, water uptake by plants, water imbibition/release in unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs, and cap rock integrity of supercritical CO2 storage.

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