Usually, foam in a porous medium flows through a small and spatially varying fraction of available pores, while the bulk of it remains trapped. The trapped foam is under a pressure gradient corresponding to the pressure gradient imposed by the flowing foam and continuous wetting liquid. The imposed pressure gradient and coalescence of the stationary foam lamellae periodically open flow channels in the trapped foam region. Foam lamellae in each of these channels flow briefly, but channels are eventually plugged by smaller bubbles entering into the trapped region. The result is a cycling of flow channels that open and close throughout the trapped foam, leading to intermittent pulsing of foam flow in that region.
The dynamic behavior of foam trapped in porous media is modeled here with a pore network simulator. We predict the magnitude of the pressure drop leading to the onset of flow of foam lamellae in the region containing trapped foam. This mobilization pressure drop depends only on the number of lamellae in the flow path and on the geometry of the pores that make up this path.
The principles learned in this study allow us to predict the fraction of foam that is trapped in a porous medium under given flow conditions. We present here the first analytic expression for the trapped foam fraction as a function of the pressure gradient, and of the mean and standard deviation of the pore size distribution. This expression provides a missing piece for the continuum foam flow models based on the moments of the volume-averaged population balance of foam bubbles.