Pore-Scale Water Vapor Condensation Behaviors in Shales: An Experimental Study

Guijie Sang, Shimin Liu, Derek Elsworth, Rui Zhang, Markus Bleuel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Water condensation in shales impacts its hydro-mechanical response. A mechanistic understanding of the pore-water system is made more challenging by significant anisotropy of pore architecture and nano-scale heterogeneity of pore surfaces. We probe the condensation response in two contrasting shales exposed to a vapor of contrast-matching water, as characterized by in situ ultra-small/small-angle neutron scattering (USANS/SANS) techniques under various relative humidities. One shale with a higher content of both kerogen and clay has rougher surfaces and higher anisotropy than the other shale (less clay and no kerogen) over length scales from 2.5 to 250 nm. Scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive spectrometry (SEM–EDS) analysis also confirms that the organic-rich shale presents more anisotropic microfabrics and higher heterogeneity compared to the other shale with less clay and no kerogen. USANS/SANS results show that water condensation effectively narrows the pore volume in the way of reducing the aspect ratio of non-equiaxed pores. For the shale with less clays and no kerogen under a relative humidity of 83%, a wetting film uniformly covers the pore-matrix interface over a wide range of length scale (1 nm–1.9 µm) without smoothing the surface roughness. In contrast, for the organic-rich and clay-rich shale with a strong wetting heterogeneity, condensation occurs at strongly curved hydrophilic asperities (1–10 nm) and smoothens the surface roughness. This is consistent with water vapor condensation behavior in a Vosges sandstone by Broseta et al. (Phys. Rev. Lett. 86:5313, 2001). Though well representing the condensation behavior of water vapor in mesopores/macropores (radii > 1 nm), USANS/SANS techniques could underestimate total water adsorption due to potential cation hydration and clay swelling in micropores (radii < 1 nm).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)713-734
Number of pages22
JournalTransport in Porous Media
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • Chemical Engineering(all)


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