Numerical modeling of two-phase flow in heterogeneous permeable media with different capillarity pressures

Hussein Hoteit, Abbas Firoozabadi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

253 Scopus citations


Contrast in capillary pressure of heterogeneous permeable media can have a significant effect on the flow path in two-phase immiscible flow. Very little work has appeared on the subject of capillary heterogeneity despite the fact that in certain cases it may be as important as permeability heterogeneity. The discontinuity in saturation as a result of capillary continuity, and in some cases capillary discontinuity may arise from contrast in capillary pressure functions in heterogeneous permeable media leading to complications in numerical modeling. There are also other challenges for accurate numerical modeling due to distorted unstructured grids because of the grid orientation and numerical dispersion effects. Limited attempts have been made in the literature to assess the accuracy of fluid flow modeling in heterogeneous permeable media with capillarity heterogeneity. The basic mixed finite element (MFE) framework is a superior method for accurate flux calculation in heterogeneous media in comparison to the conventional finite difference and finite volume approaches. However, a deficiency in the MFE from the direct use of fractional flow formulation has been recognized lately in application to flow in permeable media with capillary heterogeneity. In this work, we propose a new consistent formulation in 3D in which the total velocity is expressed in terms of the wetting-phase potential gradient and the capillary potential gradient. In our formulation, the coefficient of the wetting potential gradient is in terms of the total mobility which is smoother than the wetting mobility. We combine the MFE and discontinuous Galerkin (DG) methods to solve the pressure equation and the saturation equation, respectively. Our numerical model is verified with 1D analytical solutions in homogeneous and heterogeneous media. We also present 2D examples to demonstrate the significance of capillary heterogeneity in flow, and a 3D example to demonstrate the negligible effect of distorted meshes on the numerical solution in our proposed algorithm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-73
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Capillary pressure
  • Discontinuous Galerkin
  • Heterogeneous media
  • Mixed finite element method
  • Slope limiter
  • Two-phase flow
  • Water injection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Numerical modeling of two-phase flow in heterogeneous permeable media with different capillarity pressures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this