Experimental and Mathematical Modeling of Flow Instability in Heavy Oil Recovery Processes

This research project with the industry partner Saskatchewan Research Council focuses on the displacement front instability in heavy oil recovery processes such as water flooding, solvent injection and polymer flooding. In those processes, the less viscous displacing fluid usually moves faster than the more viscous displaced heavy oil. This results in an instability that manifests itself in the form of finger-shaped intrusions, and which is viscous fingering (VF). The VF phenomenon tends to greatly reduce sweep efficiency, leaving a large amount of untouched heavy oil underground. Studying the flow instability both experimentally and mathematically can provide a quantitative understanding on the effects of VF on the performance of those heavy oil recovery processes. Also different approaches will be examined to reduce the instability, which would result in enhanced heavy oil recovery. This study will have a great benefit to unlock western Canada’s heavy oil resources in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Faculty Supervisor:

Fanhua Zeng


Qingwang Yuan


Saskatchewan Research Council






University of Regina



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