Controlling Immiscible Fluid Displacement in Porous Media Using Controlled Colloid or Solute Deposition

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Drainage is the process by which a non-wetting fluid displaces a wetting fluid from a porous medium. This phenomenon is ubiquitous, and arises in diverse settings including groundwater contamination, oil migration, gas venting from sediments, CO2 sequestration, mercury porosimetry, soil drying, liquid infusion into porous membranes, and oxygen accumulation within polymer electrolyte membranes. The ability to control the displacement pathway of the non-wetting fluid is critically important in all of these cases, but none of the current technologies in use can do so.

Researchers at Princeton University have developed a novel approach to control the displacement behaviors by changing the geometry or the wettability of the porous matrix by injecting colloids or solutes that preferentially attach to the surface of the medium, creating a gradient of pore sizes or wettability. By controlling the colloids/solute chemistry and injection profile, this process will create a specific gradient of pore sizes/wettability that in turn changes the drainage displacement behavior to be either uniform or preferentially directed as desired.  In the technology proposed here, compounds would be added to the fluid to change the solid wettability or pore size. The colloids/solute could be colloidal particles, a salt, or a polymer. A key advantage is that this would require a smaller of amount of additives, is economically more viable, and potentially would be easier to work with in practice.



• Recovery of oil from a reservoir via injection of another fluid

• Carbon sequestration

• Mercury porosimetry

• Entry of non-aqueous contaminants into groundwater aquifers

• Gas venting from ocean sediments



• Smaller amount of additives required

• Economically more viable

• Easier method to work with


Stage of Development

The inventors have a prototype to test that a gradient of pore sizes can control the immiscible fluid displacement pathway, and have also shown that colloidal particles flowing through a porous medium can deposit on the solid surfaces and create a gradient of pore sizes.




Sujit Datta is an Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton University and the Principal Investigator of the lab. He did his undergraduate work in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, graduate work in Physics at Harvard, and postdoctoral training in Chemical and Biological Engineering at Caltech. He joined Princeton in 2017, where his lab seeks to understand and control the behavior of soft and active materials in complex settings, motivated by challenges like developing cleaner oil/gas recovery, more effective water remediation, and targeted drug delivery. Prof. Datta is the recipient of the LeRoy Apker Award from the American Physical Society, the Andreas Acrivos Award in Fluid Dynamics from the American Physical Society, the ACS Petroleum Research Fund New Investigator Award, the Alfred Rheinstein Faculty Award, and multiple Princeton Engineering Commendations for Outstanding Teaching.

Nancy Lu is a fourth-year graduate student in Chemical and Biological Engineering. She obtained her undergraduate degree from MIT, where she worked in Matthew Shoulders' lab studying protein folding homeostasis in live cells and in Martin Bazant's lab developing ways to deionize water by shock electrodialysis. Her current research focuses on understanding multi-phase flow through porous media.

Joanna Schneider is a second-year graduate student in Chemical and Biological Engineering co-advised with Rod Priestley. She did her undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins University, where she studied DNA self-assembly in the Schulman lab. She also spent a summer abroad studying cell-free protein synthesis with Cleo Kontoravdi at Imperial College London. Her current work focuses on the use of nanoparticles for water remediation.

Christopher Browne is a third-year graduate student in Chemical and Biological Engineering. He did his undergraduate work at Purdue University where he studied surface adhesion in the Stephen Beaudoin lab. He spent a semester in Italy studying gold nanoparticles with Flavio Maran at the University of Padua, and a summer in Maryland studying explosive detection at NIST. He currently studies viscoelastic flow in porous media.


Daniel Amchin is a third-year graduate student in Chemical and Biological Engineering. He did his undergraduate work in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California where he worked in Andrea Armani's lab on selective cancer therapies and optical diagnostics. His current research focuses on biofilm formation in porous media and aggregation of bacteria.

Navid Bizmark is a PCCM postdoctoral researcher co-advised with Rod Priestley. He did his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Tehran and University of Waterloo, respectively. His work focuses on applications of nanoparticles in multiphase systems. He is currently working on structured Pickering emulsions.


Intellectual Property Status

Patent protection is pending. Princeton is currently seeking commercial partners for the further development and commercialization of this opportunity.


Prabhpreet S. Gill

Princeton University Office of Technology Licensing • (609) 258-3653•



Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Prabhpreet Gill
Licensing Associate
Princeton University
Sujit Datta
Nancy Lu
Joanna Schneider
Christopher Browne
Daniel Amchin
Navid Bizmark