Direct measurement of the wetting front capillary pressure in a clay brick ceramic
SourceJournal of Physics D: Applied Physics
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The absorption of a liquid into a rectangular bar of an initially dry porous material that is sealed on all surfaces except the inflow face is analysed in terms of Sharp Front theory. Sharp Front models are developed for both complete and incomplete displacement of air ahead of the advancing wetting front. Experiments are described from which a characteristic capillary potential of the material is obtained by measuring the equilibrium pressure of the air displaced and compressed ahead of the advancing wetting front. Results for the absorption of water and n -heptane by a fired clay brick ceramic suggest that this wetting front capillary pressure (or capillary potential) scales approximately with the surface tension and also that the permeability scales inversely with the liquid viscosity. The pressure of the air trapped in the wetted region is found to be the same as the pressure of the displaced air. For this material the wetting front capillary pressure for water at 20°C is 0.113 MPa, equivalent to a hydraulic tension head of 11.5 m and to a Young–Laplace pore diameter of 2.6 µm. The capillary pressure so measured is apparently a fundamental percolation property of the material that can be interpreted as the air pressure at which liquid phase continuity and unsaturated conductivity both vanish. The method described can be applied generally to porous materials.