A semi-infinite hydraulic fracture driven by a shear-thinning fluid

We use the Carreau rheological model which properly accounts for the shear-thinning behaviour between the low and high shear rate Newtonian limits to investigate the problem of a semi-infinite hydraulic fracture propagating at a constant velocity in an impermeable linearly elastic material. We show that the solution depends on four dimensionless parameters: a dimensionless toughness (function of the fracture velocity, confining stress, material and fluid parameters), a dimensionless transition shear stress (related to both fluid and material behaviour), the fluid shear-thinning index and the ratio between the high and low shear rate viscosities. We solve the complete problem numerically combining a Gauss–Chebyshev method for the discretization of the elasticity equation, the quasi-static fracture propagation condition and a finite difference scheme for the width-averaged lubrication flow. The solution exhibits a complex structure with up to four distinct asymptotic regions as one moves away from the fracture tip: a region governed by the classical linear elastic fracture mechanics behaviour near the tip, a high shear rate viscosity asymptotic and power-law asymptotic region in the intermediate field and a low shear rate viscosity asymptotic far away from the fracture tip. The occurrence and order of magnitude of the extent of these different viscous asymptotic regions are estimated analytically. Our results also quantify how shear thinning drastically reduces the size of the fluid lag compared to a Newtonian fluid. We also investigate simpler rheological models (power law, Ellis) and establish the small domain where they can properly reproduce the response obtained with the complete rheology.

Published in:
Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 838, 573-605
Cambridge University Press

 Record created 2018-01-25, last modified 2019-03-17

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