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  • Hysteresis of liquid adsorption in porous media by coarse-grained Monte Carlo withdirect experimental validationBenjamin D. Zeidman, Ning Lu, and David T. Wu Citation: The Journal of Chemical Physics 144, 174709 (2016); doi: 10.1063/1.4948437 View online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437 View Table of Contents: http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/jcp/144/17?ver=pdfcov Published by the AIP Publishing Articles you may be interested in Polymer adsorption on reconstructed Au(001): A statistical description of P3HT by scanning tunnelingmicroscopy and coarse-grained Monte Carlo simulations J. Chem. Phys. 141, 164701 (2014); 10.1063/1.4898382 Water adsorption isotherms on porous onionlike carbonaceous particles. Simulations with the grand canonicalMonte Carlo method J. Chem. Phys. 133, 144702 (2010); 10.1063/1.3496466 Coarse-grained kinetic Monte Carlo models: Complex lattices, multicomponent systems, and homogenizationat the stochastic level J. Chem. Phys. 129, 184101 (2008); 10.1063/1.3005225 Water adsorption in disordered mesoporous silica (Vycor) at 300 K and 650 K : A Grand Canonical MonteCarlo simulation study of hysteresis J. Chem. Phys. 122, 094704 (2005); 10.1063/1.1854129 Polymer translocation through a nanopore induced by adsorption: Monte Carlo simulation of a coarse-grainedmodel J. Chem. Phys. 121, 6042 (2004); 10.1063/1.1785776

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  • THE JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS 144, 174709 (2016)

    Hysteresis of liquid adsorption in porous media by coarse-grainedMonte Carlo with direct experimental validation

    Benjamin D. Zeidman,1 Ning Lu,2 and David T. Wu1,3,a)1Department of Chemistry, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado 80401, USA2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden,Colorado 80401, USA3Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden,Colorado 80401, USA

    (Received 3 November 2015; accepted 19 April 2016; published online 6 May 2016)

    The effects of path-dependent wetting and drying manifest themselves in many types of physicalsystems, including nanomaterials, biological systems, and porous media such as soil. It is desirableto better understand how these hysteretic macroscopic properties result from a complex interplaybetween gasses, liquids, and solids at the pore scale. Coarse-Grained Monte Carlo (CGMC) is anappealing approach to model these phenomena in complex pore spaces, including ones determinedexperimentally. We present two-dimensional CGMC simulations of wetting and drying in twosystems with pore spaces determined by sections from micro X-ray computed tomography: a systemof randomly distributed spheres and a system of Ottawa sand. Results for the phase distribution,water uptake, and matric suction when corrected for extending to three dimensions show excellentagreement with experimental measurements on the same systems. This supports the hypothesis thatCGMC can generate metastable configurations representative of experimental hysteresis and can alsobe used to predict hysteretic constitutive properties of particular experimental systems, given porespace images. Published by AIP Publishing. [http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437]


    Hysteretic behavior related to adsorption of fluids inporous materials exists in myriad natural and synthetic sys-tems. In nanomaterials, adsorption measurements can allowdetermination of pore distributions, adsorption isotherms,liquid-vapor coexistence curves, and ion channel diffusion.13

    In a biomedical context, hysteretic behavior has been observedin the study of dental surfaces and bone formation.4,5 In soils,mechanical stability is affected by the hysteretic nature of fluidflow through a granular pile.6 Adsorption at the mesoscaleis of particular interest,7 as it can reveal much significantinformation about pore size and shape, permeability, andsurface area.

    Adsorption of fluids in soils involves a complex interplayof gasses, liquids, and solids.8,9 Various experimental andtheoretical approaches have been developed to investigateadsorption in porous materials. Experimental methodologiestypically measure water retention within porous media usingtransient flow methods.10,11 Theoretical approaches to addressmultiphase distribution in porous materials include modelingfluid flow via solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations,12,13

    molecular-scale Monte Carlo,14 Monte Carlo annealingmethods,15 grand canonical Monte Carlo simulations,3,16,17

    and density functional theory.18 In soils, specifically, severaltheoretical models have been proposed for constitutiveproperties such as soil-water retention.19,20 Approaches todetermine the phase distribution using continuum methods

    a)Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. Electronic mail:[email protected]

    become more difficult with increasing complexity of thepore space, while techniques such as molecular dynamics21

    or computational fluid dynamics22 can have significantcomputational expense.

    When porous materials are exposed to wetting or dryingconditions, the fluid content and distribution through thematerial is typically hysteretic in nature. This results ina history dependence for many resulting properties, whichin the case of soils includes key constitutive propertiessuch as adsorption isotherms and soil-water retention curves(SWRCs). Thus, it is important for simulation methodologiesto be able to capture and quantify hysteresis in fluidretention under wetting and drying conditions. The mostprevalent simulation methodology is grand canonical MonteCarlo, using both molecular and lattice models.23 There isevidence that the hysteretic sampling of configurations bygrand canonical Monte Carlo is representative of that usingmore realistic dynamics.17,18,24,25 There are several simulationstudies on adsorption hysteresis, notably by Monson andco-workers. Many studies consider idealized pore spaces,such as slit or ink-bottle pores18,26,27 or interconnectedpore networks,2830 and focus on the influence of a fewparameters, such as pore geometry or temperature. Otherstudies have looked to examine adsorption/desorption ingenerated synthetic complex pore spaces, with statisticalattributes matched to systems such as porous glass or silica, toillustrate qualitative comparison of the adsorption hysteresiswith experimental systems.18,3136

    We present here a direct comparison of hystereticadsorption in coarse-grained Monte Carlo simulation andexperimental measurements on the same pore space, allowing

    0021-9606/2016/144(17)/174709/8/$30.00 144, 174709-1 Published by AIP Publishing.

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    http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4948437mailto:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]://crossmark.crossref.org/dialog/?doi=10.1063/1.4948437&domain=pdf&date_stamp=2016-05-06

  • 174709-2 Zeidman, Lu, and Wu J. Chem. Phys. 144, 174709 (2016)

    for validation of the simulation methodology and derivedphysical quantities. Experimental input for the simulationincludes tomographic images of the pore space as well ascontact angle and interfacial free energy values for settinginteraction energies between neighboring cells. The simulationmethodology uses a two-dimensional (2D) grand canonicalextension of our prior study using canonical lattice MonteCarlo together with geometric corrections to account forusing two-dimensional sections of the three-dimensional (3D)porespace.24 Simulation results for the soil-water retention,matric suction, and phase distribution are directly comparedwith experimental results for the same system.


    We consider systems where the temperature is well belowthe fluid critical point and with pore sizes large compared to thefluid interfacial width. These are common conditions for manyporous systems of interest, including the experimental systemspresented here. The confined fluid can thus be considered toconsist of continuum liquid and vapor regions separated bywell-defined interfaces. For a given thermodynamic condition,there are many such configurations each corresponding to ametastable local energy minimum. The coarse-grained latticemethodology presented below aims to sample such localminimum energy configurations. To do so, the resolution ofthe lattice is taken high enough to resolve the smallest porefeatures of interest, so that the interfacial configurations canapproximate that of the continuous real system. Furthermore,the coarse-grained lattice model is simulated at a fictitioustemperature that is low enough that the interfaces in the modelare also well-defined but high enough to sample differentconfigurations and avoid low-temperature lattice discretizationartifacts. In this way, the configurations in the coarse-grainedmodel can mimic those of the real system by likewise seekingto minimize the interfacial energy. The parameters of thereal system that are needed for the coarse-grained modelare thus the interfacial energies, which control the contactangles and the amount (or chemical potential) of the fluidphase. Because of this, the coarse-grained model captures theinterfacial behavior at a particular thermodynamic condition ofthe real fluid. Behavior at different thermodynamic conditions,reflecting the phase behavior of the fluid, would be capturedby changing the interfacial tensions and chemical potentials.

    Our simulation methodology is based on a lattice gasadapted for granular systems15,3739 and an extension of ourprevious work.24 The model consists of a grand canonicallattice gas with each lattice cell representing a coarse-grainedregion consisting of one of three phases: gas, liquid, or solid.The effective Hamiltonian can then be defined as

    E =



    Jni n

    j +

    ini , (1)

    where is the chemical potential for a cell in the liquid phase, the first sum is over all nearest neighbor cells i and j, andthe second sum is over all phases. The occupation numberfor the cell is thus defined as ni = 1 if cell i is in phase and 0 otherwise. The coarse-grained interfacial couplingparameters, J, account for the (free) energy of contact

    between neighboring cells of phase and . We note thatthe Hamiltonian for a given set of J with non-zero valuesof same-phase coupling parameters, J, can be rewrittenas an equivalent Hamiltonian with J = 0 by replacing thedifferent-phase coupling parameters J with their relativevalues J (J + J)/2 and with an appropriate shift in thechemical potential values.

    While this lattice gas model can be simulated inthree dimensions to match the experimental system, forcomputational efficiency, we have chosen to use a two-dimensional square lattice to represent the system. Wehave previously demonstrated that stereological correctionsfor extrapolating from two to three dimensions have beenquantitatively accurate for characteristic interfacial propertiessuch as the capillary pressure and specific surface area.24,25

    This stereological correction involves using two-dimensionalcross-sectional slices of the full three-dimensional porespaceas the two-dimensional porespace simulation geometry. Theprimary assumption is that the distribution of local orientationsof the interface is isotropically homogeneous in the three-dimensional system. The functional form depends on theproperty being measured; e.g., for the capillary pressure, theaverage radius of curvature is assumed to be the same in2D and 3D, and for the specific surface area, a standardstereological factor of (4/) is used to correct from 2Daverage perimeter/area to 3D average surface area/volume.This resulted in quantitative agreement within error bars of8% compared to experiment over the liquid saturation rangeof 15%-70%.24,25

    For a fluid-fluid interface, the J are related to theinterfacial free energies, , via the relation40,41

    l = 2J T lncoth


    , (2)

    where the first term on the right-hand side is the free energy ofthe direct contact, and the second term reflects the contributiondue to interfacial fluctuations. Here, T represents a (fictitious)simulation temperature that we discuss further below, and wehave chosen units of temperature so that Boltzmanns constanttakes the value kB = 1. However, since we are interested inmechanically stable, locally minimum energy configurationsexpected at the pore scale, the temperatures simulated arerelatively low, i.e., T < J. In this regime, the interfacialfluctuation contribution of Eq. (2) is at most 15% of the firstterm at the upper end of this temperature range and less forlower temperatures. For a fluid-solid interface, the interfacialfluctuations will be greatly suppressed since the solid is static,and so the interfacial free energy is expected to be closelyapproximated by the direct contact value of 2 J.

    The interactions between phases in the simulation arethus set according to the interfacial free energies (surfacetensions) between the phases. However, we further note thatthe results of the simulation in the limit of T J are notdependent on the individual surface tensions but rather on theratio of surface tensions set by the contact angle as given byYoungs equation42

    cos = (SG SL)/LG. (3)As discussed above, the lattice resolution (250 250 inthis work) is chosen high enough so that the resulting

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  • 174709-3 Zeidman, Lu, and Wu J. Chem. Phys. 144, 174709 (2016)

    thermally averaged interfaces are representative of the limitingcontinuum interfaces, and the solid surface can be consideredlocally smooth, except for the very smallest pore dimensions.The use of Youngs equation under these conditions wasquantitatively validated in modeling of complex experimentalporespaces.24,25

    Contact angle hysteresis is not seen in simulation becauseour simulation does not explicitly model fluid flow. Instead,water and gas are transported by randomly selecting a locationon the lattice and attempting to change its occupation to theother phase (e.g., changing a location occupied with waterto occupying it with air). The earlier canonical version ofthe algorithm differs only in that a change of air to water inone location occurs simultaneously with a change of waterto air in a different location to conserve the total amount ofeach phase. Thus, the observed contact angle in simulationis independent of wetting or drying conditions and is onlydetermined by the ratios of the surface tensions between thedifferent phases: solid-gas, solid-liquid, and liquid-gas (SG,SL, and LG, respectively). To correspond to perfect wettingconditions favoring water adsorption onto the solid phase,the interfacial coupling parameters, J, used in this paperwere set to 1 for liquid/liquid, +1 for liquid/gas interactions,2 for liquid/solid interactions, and 0 for all other pairs. Aperfect wetting contact angle is analogous to a system ofwater, quartz/silica sand, and air.15

    The simulation is evolved using the standard Metropolisalgorithm43 and aims to find local minimum energyconfigurations, which correspond to an energy scale ofT J. However, for such temperatures (corresponding tothe realistic situation of thermal energy producing negligible

    interfacial fluctuations), the simulation would in practice beunable to overcome the energy barriers between local energyminima; thus, the simulation would be very inefficient. In thisrespect, the simulation parameter T essentially controls thedegree to which unfavorable energy transitions are accepted.The temperature dependence of adsorption also manifestsitself in that different size pores may experience differentwetting behaviors at different temperatures. For efficiency, wechose a temperature similar in scale to J to speed up thesampling of the many local energy configurations present in ageometrically complex porespace. For the calculations herein,we have used a fictitious value of T = 1, as our J values areorder unity.

    We prepare the initial conditions of our simulations usingthe following procedure. The simulation domain is initiallypopulated with the solid phase. The geometry of the solidphase is obtained from microXCT (see Fig. 1), and thegeometry of the image is discretized onto the simulationlattice. For both systems studied here, the lattice resolutionused was 250 250. The solid phase is assumed to bestationary. For simulations of wetting (drying), the remainingcells are all assigned as gas (water). We define simulationsaturation as the number of water cells divided by thetotal number of pore space cells. Note that the simulationmethodology is the same regardless of the complexity ofthe pore space geometry or the magnitude of the porescale l though physical quantities will scale with l accor-dingly.

    Experimental results were obtained using a sample ofOttawa sand and tested according to a procedure outlined byLu et al.44

    FIG. 1. A comparison between exper-imental wetting seen in randomly dis-tributed spheres and microXCT of Ot-tawa sand and canonical simulation out-put. (a) A microXCT image of partiallysaturated glass beads 400600 m in di-ameter. Air, liquid, and beads are shownin black, red, and yellow, respectively.(b) Simulation output at 25% liquid sat-uration with a similar capillary struc-ture. Air, liquid, and beads are shownin white, blue, and brown, respectively.(c) A microXCT image of partially wetOttawa sand with dimensions of 3.5213.521 mm and a pixel resolution of10.06 m. Air, liquid, and the granu-lar phase are shown in red, green, andpurple, respectively. (d) Simulation out-put at 10% liquid saturation with a sim-ilar capillary structure. Air, liquid, andthe granular phase are shown in white,blue, and brown, respectively. FromZeidman et al., Pore Scale Phenomena:Frontiers in Energy and Environment.Copyright 2014 World Scientific. Panels(c) and (d) reproduced with permissionfrom World Scientific. Panel (a) repro-duced with permission from Lu et al.,Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L23402 (2010).Copyright 2010 John Wiley and Sons.

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  • 174709-4 Zeidman, Lu, and Wu J. Chem. Phys. 144, 174709 (2016)


    A. Hysteresis in randomly distributed spheres

    Initial simulations were conducted on the pore spacefrom a system of randomly distributed spherical beads. Thegeometry of this previously characterized system correspondsto an experimental setup in which capillarity was measuredusing glass beads (400600 m diameter) and imagedusing microXCT.24,25 Figures 1(a) and 1(b) illustrate typicalsnapshots from a canonical Monte Carlo simulation24,25 ofthe phase distribution in this porous medium, comparingexperimental images with simulation output at 25% watersaturation. There is close but not perfect correspondencebetween the water-distribution patterns, which is expectedgiven the existence of multiple similar local minima for thesame degree of saturation.

    To calculate adsorption isotherms, two series ofsimulations were run with fixed chemical potential valuesbetween 2 and 3 (in units of kBT). Chemical potential plays ananalogous role to vapor pressure in experiment in controllingthe water saturation. Since the system is incompressible,varying the simulation chemical potential is equivalent tovarying the simulation pressure. The first and second seriessimulated drying and wetting conditions in which the initialsaturation was set to 100% and 0%, respectively. For eachchemical potential value, a discrete simulation was allowedto evolve for 8000 Monte Carlo steps. This allows time forthe simulation to locally equilibrate (more on this below)and observe any substantial wetting (or drying) events. Fig. 2shows the differences in the water distribution between drying(Figs. 2(a)-2(d)) and wetting (Figs. 2(h)-2(e)) for equal valuesof chemical potential.

    Figure 3 shows the adsorption and desorption hysteresisby varying chemical potential for wetting and drying.

    FIG. 3. Adsorption isotherms for wetting and drying behavior in Ottawasand (solid line) and randomly distributed spheres (dashed line). Dryingand wetting are represented as blue diamonds and red squares, respectively.Plotted is the fraction of water cells (since the simulation is a 2D area of watercells, it is analogous to volume) vs. chemical potential (units of kBT ). V isthe simulation saturation level and V0 is the 100% saturation level. Each datapoint corresponds to four discrete simulations at the given chemical potentialvalue; in many cases, the associated error bars are less than the size of the plotsymbol.

    While both cases show decreasing saturation with increasingchemical potential, the drying simulations maintain morewater than the wetting simulations at a given chemicalpotential, since they start at full saturation and remove water.

    As the chemical potential is increased above its initialvalue of 2, a separation in the isotherms emerges. This beginsat a chemical potential value of 2.05. The drying curve staysclose to 100% saturation until a chemical potential valueof 2.25 is reached; at this point, the difference between thetwo curves is greatest at 66% saturation. The two isothermsconverge again at a chemical potential of 2.5. The simulationpanels in Fig. 2 all correspond to this region of hysteresis(isotherm separation) from the plot in Fig. 3.

    FIG. 2. Simulation output showing water distributions at chemical potential values of 2.1, 2.25, 2.35, and 2.45. Drying is shown in panels (a)-(d), and wettingin panels (h)-(e). Notice that despite having the same chemical potential values, the resulting capillary distributions are quite different between the wettingand drying cases. Intensity of blue color corresponds to the average water fraction. From Zeidman et al., Pore Scale Phenomena: Frontiers in Energy andEnvironment. Copyright 2014 World Scientific. Panels (a), (d), (e), and (h) are reproduced with permission from World Scientific.

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  • 174709-5 Zeidman, Lu, and Wu J. Chem. Phys. 144, 174709 (2016)

    B. Hysteresis in Ottawa sand

    Grand canonical Monte Carlo simulations were thencarried out on a pore space derived from an experimentalsample of Ottawa sand. The geometry was determined using2D cross sections of a three-dimensional (3D) X-ray computedtomography image of the sand sample. An example 2D crosssection along with a representative simulation at a similarsaturation is shown in Figs. 1(c) and 1(d). The distributionof the water phase is again similar between experiment andsimulation. Calculations were conducted in the same manneras for the systems with randomly distributed spheres.

    Because of the increased complexity of this geometry,the manner in which the pore space is populated with liquid isnot always consistent between wetting and drying simulations.Figs. 4(a)4(d) illustrate this by comparing wetting and dryingsimulations at similar saturation levels but different chemicalpotential values. A noticeable detail in Fig. 4, particularlypanels (a) and (b), is the areas of water phase that arelighter in color than other areas of adsorbed water in theporespace. This indicates that either wetting or drying tookplace in this area during sampling to determine the averagewater distribution. Wetting or drying of a specific pore spacelocation occurred when the simulation overcame an energybarrier in a region that was previously at local equilibrium.This is discussed more thoroughly in Sec. III C. When thisoccurs during a canonical simulation, it appears visuallysimilar to the light blue regions in Fig. 4. During a grandcanonical simulation, water in this region is either added orremoved from the simulation, analogous to cavitation.45 Thecorresponding adsorption isotherms for the Ottawa sand are

    given in Fig. 3 with trends similar to those for the randomlydistributed spheres.

    From these data, it is possible to calculate the soil-waterretention curve (SWRC), which relates the soil suction to thevolumetric water content and is a key piece of informationused to understand the hydrologic cycle.46 Matric suctionis the pressure difference between the air and water phasesand can be calculated using the Laplace-Young equation:P = 2LG/r , where r is the average radius of curvatureof the local liquid-gas interfaces. From the simulation data,we define the air-liquid interface as a 50% contour of theaverage liquid saturation and determine the local radius ofcurvature from a least squares fit.24 The factor of two in theLaplace-Young equation reflects the existence of two principalradii of curvature (e.g., r1 and r2).9,24 We have assumed thatthe average curvature in the two dimensional simulations canbe used as the average in three dimensions. Given the imagescale, the value for the cell length (l) is 13.284 m. Theliterature value for the surface tension of water at 25 C (LG;71.79 dyn/cm) was used.

    Figure 5 plots the SWRC given by grand canonicalsimulation, canonical simulation, and experiment. The resultsfor the canonical simulation are included with the wettingdata because the process captured by canonical simulationis more similar to grand canonical wetting. Under canonicalconditions, the water phase starts as a randomly distributedvapor in the pore space and then condenses on the surface ofthe solid. In contrast, in the drying condition, the simulationstarts as fully saturated, as seen in Fig. 5(b). In both cases,the simulation data agree with the experimental data. Thisis significant because it provides a concrete link between

    FIG. 4. Capillary structure of sampleswith similar water saturation but dif-ferent chemical potentials depending onwhether wetting and drying. (a) A wet-ting condition with a chemical potentialvalue of 2.45 and (c) a drying conditionwith a chemical potential value of 2.25,yet both (a) and (c) yield similar satu-ration conditions of about 70%. Simi-larly, panels (b) and (d), with chemicalpotential values of 2.4 and 2.35, respec-tively, yield similar saturation values ofabout 50%. Intensity of blue color cor-responds to the average water fraction.

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  • 174709-6 Zeidman, Lu, and Wu J. Chem. Phys. 144, 174709 (2016)

    FIG. 5. Calculated soil-water retention curves (SWRCs) for the Ottawa sand system (matric suction [kPa] vs. percent saturation). The simulation results areaverages of the principal radii of curvature between the water and air phases converted to matric suction with the Laplace-Young equation. (a) SWRC underdrying conditions and (b) SWRC under wetting conditions. Grand canonical simulation, canonical simulation, and experimental results are shown in blue, green,and red, respectively. Canonical simulation results are included with the wetting SWRC because canonical simulation begins with the water phase randomlydistributed in the porespace and then adsorbing onto the material as the simulation progresses. Experimental results were obtained using a sample of Ottawasand and tested according to a procedure outlined by Lu et al.44

    simulation output and the constitutive, macroscopic propertiesof soils.

    A potential source for the differences between the grandcanonical simulation and experiment is the use of approximatedynamics in the evolution of the simulated phase distribution.Under experimental conditions, there is the flow of waterduring drying and wetting, which can result in contact anglehysteresis.47 As mentioned earlier, the effects of contact anglehysteresis are not captured by the simulation, and so theobserved contact angles will be the same under both wettingand drying conditions. In the simulations, exchange betweenthe water and air phases is allowed at any random location inthe pore space, in contrast to experimental conditions, in whichfluid must physically flow through the pore structure in orderto fill the pore space. In any experiment, trapped pockets ofair due to water in the capillaries would almost certainly exist;these are not taken into account in our simulation. However,the good agreement between our simulation and experimentaldrying and wetting data in Fig. 5 suggests that despite thephysical differences in the microscopic mechanism of masstransport, much of the hysteretic behavior can be capturedwithin this methodology.

    C. Discussion

    As seen in Figure 3, the hysteresis loops in theadsorption isotherms of the glass beads and Ottawa sand differsubstantially in location and shape, reflecting differences inthe respective distribution, geometry, and size between thepore spaces of the two samples. The pore space in the glassbead and Ottawa sand simulations occupies 40% and 35%of the total simulated area, respectively. Hysteresis reflectshow the energy required to add or remove water from alattice cell depends on that cells surroundings. In the caseof wetting a dry system, adding water to a single cell in adry area is unfavorable energetically. Moreover, it is moreenergetically intensive to populate (or unpopulate) larger porespaces. Likewise, removing water from a cell in an alreadyestablished water region is also energetically unfavorable. Thiscauses the branching between the wetting and drying paths

    that is seen in the adsorption isotherms. The ability for themethodology to capture the character of the hysteresis fromexperimental images in the isothermal adsorption curves isan advantage when compared to extrapolations from simplergeometries.3,18

    The wetting or drying system moves towards lower freeenergy through an energy landscape of multiple local minima.This gradually slowing relaxation through metastable statesis seen in the plots in Figure 6 of the amount of liquidvs. simulation cycles for both the drying and wetting cases.Hypothetically, given a long enough time scale, equilibrationwould result in the same state under the wetting and dryingconditions, whether for simulation or experiment, eliminatingthe hysteresis. As mentioned above, the evolution of the phasedistribution by Grand Canonical Monte Carlo is approximate,notably in neglecting fluid dynamics. That the behavior ofthe properties predicted from simulation compare well withexperiments suggests that the evolution by Grand CanonicalMonte Carlo captures relevant aspects of the real dynamicalevolution of the system. In effect, these results suggest thatthe wetting and drying hysteresis is largely determined by theporespace geometry without explicit consideration of capillaryevolution due to flow. One possible explanation is that theevolution of the phase distribution is quasistatic, controlledby capillary stresses over viscous or inertial stresses. Indeed,for many mesoscale systems, the pore-scale capillary number,Ca = v/ (where is the viscosity, v is the pore-scalevelocity, and is the fluid/fluid interfacial tension), is small(e.g., Ca 106104 for oil trapped in pores of water-wetrock).48

    Since the method employs a coarse-grained latticeapproach to a complex geometry, simulation is possible on thescale of ones choice for the system. Geometry from variousexperimental sources (e.g., microXCT or electron microscopy)can be discretized onto a lattice. Associated interfacialproperties of different-sized systems are determined by thelattice cell length scale. For example, if the 3.521 3.521 mmcell of the Ottawa sand (Fig. 4) were 1/100 of that size, thecorresponding calculated soil-water retention curves (Fig. 5)would retain the same shape, but the capillary pressure

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  • 174709-7 Zeidman, Lu, and Wu J. Chem. Phys. 144, 174709 (2016)

    FIG. 6. A representation of simulation equilibration by comparing the num-ber of liquid cells to Monte Carlo steps. (a)(c) depict simulations at chemicalpotentials of 2.20, 2.35, and 2.45 (units of kBT ), respectively. In all figures,the top (blue) curve represents drying conditions, and the bottom red curverepresents wetting conditions. In all cases, as the simulation progresses, thetwo curves trend towards each other, to a presumed equilibrium at extremelylong times exceeding practical limitations.

    would be multiplied by a factor of 100. Additionally, thismethod can be adapted easily to include additional phases ordimensions.


    We have extended our previous study comparing MonteCarlo simulation to experimental measurements on the samesystem to hysteretic adsorption in a system of beads and ina sand sample. This methodology can be used to quantifyintrinsic properties associated with path-dependent wettingand drying adsorption in geometrically complex porousmedia. This approach can determine pore space regions wherecapillarity is likely to occur, as well as the resulting waterdistributions in wetting or drying conditions. Analysis of theresulting water distribution allows calculation of isothermaladsorption curves, demonstrating how the adsorbed watercontent of a pore space changes according to wetting vs.

    drying conditions for a given chemical potential. This isanalogous to the plots of pressure vs. liquid content foundin experimental adsorption studies. Other important intrinsicphysical properties are also available from simulation: in thecase of Ottawa sand, the soil water retention curve was foundto conform with experimental observations.

    We note one final observation related to the excellentagreement between simulation and experiment. Since thesimulation does not capture any effects related to flow,our results suggest that some key properties resulting fromadsorption phenomena may be largely controlled by thegeometry of the pore space rather than the flow of fluidthrough it. Fluid flow is determined by the effects of materialwettability, contact angle hysteresis, and trapped air, as localcapillary formation can bar additional wetting in a givenregion. This effect may be limited to the types of porousmedia studied here, as both the randomly distributed spheresand Ottawa soil can be saturated fully. Further study would berequired to confirm these observations.


    The financial support of the Unconventional Natural Gasand Oil Institute Coupled Integrated Multiscale Measurementsand Modeling Consortium at the Colorado School of Mines ishighly appreciated.

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