We develop a microfluidic experimental platform to study solute transport in multi-scale fracture networks with a disparity of spatial scales ranging between two and five orders of magnitude. Using the experimental scaling relationship observed in Marcellus shales between fracture aperture and frequency, the microfluidic design of the fracture network spans all length scales from the micron (1 μ) to the dm (10 dm). This intentional `tyranny of scales’ in the design, a determining feature of shale fabric, introduces unique complexities during microchip fabrication, microfluidic flow-through experiments, imaging, data acquisition and interpretation. Here, we establish best practices to achieve a reliable experimental protocol, critical for reproducible studies involving multi-scale physical micromodels spanning from the Darcy- to the pore-scale (dm to μm). With this protocol, two fracture networks are created: a macrofracture network with fracture apertures between 5 and 500 μm and a microfracture network with fracture apertures between 1 and 500 μm. The latter includes the addition of 1 μm ‘microfractures’, at a bearing of 55°, to the backbone of the former. Comparative analysis of the breakthrough curves measured at corresponding locations along primary, secondary and tertiary fractures in both models allows one to assess the scale and the conditions at which microfractures may impact passive transport.
- fracture network