Coal-on-a-Chip: visualizing flow in coal fractures

Alireza Gerami, Ryan T. Armstrong, Benjamin Johnston, Majid Ebrahimi Warkiani, Nader Mosavat, Peyman Mostaghimi*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    29 Citations (Scopus)


    Geomaterial microfluidics are the next generation of tools necessary for studying fluid flows related to subsurface engineering technologies. Traditional microfluidic devices do not capture surface wettability and roughness parameters that can have a significant influence on porous media flows. This is particularly important for coal seam gas reservoirs in which methane gas is transported through a well-developed system of natural fractures that display unique wettability and roughness characteristics. A coal geomaterial microfluidic device can be generated by etching a fracture pattern on a coal surface by using three-dimensional laser micromachining; however, it is unclear if the resulting surface properties are representative of real coal. In an effort to generate a realistic coal microfluidic device, we characterize coal surface roughness properties from real coal cleats. We then compare these results to the roughness of the patterns, generated from laser etching. Roughness measurements in real coal fractures show that cleats and microfractures are mostly oriented parallel to the coal beddings rather than perpendicular to the bedding, which is important when selecting coal for fabrication of a microfluidic device since we find that the natural microfractures influence the resulting roughness of etched fractures. We also compare resulting coal/brine/gas contact angles under static and dynamics conditions. The contact angle for coal is highly heterogeneous. Surface roughness and pore pressure may influence the contact angle. With the aid of the coal geomaterial device, the effect of these parameters on coal wettability can be explored and a range of possible coal contact angles can be visualized and represented. The geomaterial fabrication, as outlined herein, provides a tool to capture more realistic coal surface properties in microfluidics experiments.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)10393-10403
    Number of pages11
    JournalEnergy and Fuels
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2017


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