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Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void (i.e., "empty") spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0 and 1, or as a percentage between 0 and 100%. There are many ways to test porosity in a substance or part, such as industrial CT scanning. The term porosity is used in multiple fields including pharmaceutics, ceramics, metallurgy, materials, manufacturing, earth sciences, soil mechanics and engineering.
In gas-liquid two-phase flow, the void fraction is defined as the fraction of the flow-channel volume that is occupied by the gas phase or, alternatively, as the fraction of the cross-sectional area of the channel that is occupied by the gas phase. Void fraction usually varies from location to location in the flow channel (depending on the two-phase flow pattern). It fluctuates with time and its value is usually time averaged. In separated (i.e., non-homogeneous) flow, it is related to volumetric flow rates of the gas and the liquid phase, and to the ratio of the velocity of the two phases (called slip ratio).
Used in geology, hydrogeology, soil science, and building science, the porosity of a porous medium (such as rock or sediment) describes the fraction of void space in the material, where the void may contain, for example, air or water. It is defined by the ratio:
where VV is the volume of void-space (such as fluids) and VT is the total or bulk volume of material, including the solid and void components. Both the mathematical symbols and are used to denote porosity.
Porosity is a fraction between 0 and 1, typically ranging from less than 0.01 for solid granite to more than 0.5 for peat and clay. It may also be represented in percent terms by multiplying the fraction by 100.
The porosity of a rock, or sedimentary layer, is an important consideration when attempting to evaluate the potential volume of water or hydrocarbons it may contain. Sedimentary porosity is a complicated function of many factors, including but not limited to: rate of burial, depth of burial, the nature of the connate fluids, the nature of overlying sediments (which may impede fluid expulsion). One commonly used relationship between porosity and depth is given by the Athy (1930) equation:
where is the surface porosity, is the compaction coefficient (m−1) and is depth (m).
Normal particle density is assumed to be approximately 2.65 g/cm3, although a better estimation can be obtained by examining the lithology of the particles.
Porosity can be proportional to hydraulic conductivity; for two similar sandy aquifers, the one with a higher porosity will typically have a higher hydraulic conductivity (more open area for the flow of water), but there are many complications to this relationship. The principal complication is that there is not a direct proportionality between porosity and hydraulic conductivity but rather an inferred proportionality. There is a clear proportionality between pore throat radii and hydraulic conductivity. Also, there tends to be a proportionality between pore throat radii and pore volume. If the proportionality between pore throat radii and porosity exists then a proportionality between porosity and hydraulic conductivity may exist. However, as grain size or sorting decreases the proportionality between pore throat radii and porosity begins to fail and therefore so does the proportionality between porosity and hydraulic conductivity. For example: clays typically have very low hydraulic conductivity (due to their small pore throat radii) but also have very high porosities (due to the structured nature of clay minerals), which means clays can hold a large volume of water per volume of bulk material, but they do not release water rapidly and therefore have low hydraulic conductivity.
Well sorted (grains of approximately all one size) materials have higher porosity than similarly sized poorly sorted materials (where smaller particles fill the gaps between larger particles). The graphic illustrates how some smaller grains can effectively fill the pores (where all water flow takes place), drastically reducing porosity and hydraulic conductivity, while only being a small fraction of the total volume of the material. For tables of common porosity values for earth materials, see the "further reading" section in the Hydrogeology article.
Consolidated rocks (e.g. sandstone, shale, granite or limestone) potentially have more complex "dual" porosities, as compared with alluvial sediment. This can be split into connected and unconnected porosity. Connected porosity is more easily measured through the volume of gas or liquid that can flow into the rock, whereas fluids cannot access unconnected pores.
Porosity is the ratio of pore volume to its total volume. Porosity is controlled by: rock type, pore distribution, cementation, diagenetic history and composition. Porosity is not controlled by grain size, as the volume of between-grain space is related only to the method of grain packing.
Rocks normally decrease in porosity with age and depth of burial. Tertiary age Gulf Coast sandstones are in general more porous than Cambrian age sandstones. There are exceptions to this rule, usually because of the depth of burial and thermal history.
Porosity of surface soil typically decreases as particle size increases. This is due to soil aggregate formation in finer textured surface soils when subject to soil biological processes. Aggregation involves particulate adhesion and higher resistance to compaction. Typical bulk density of sandy soil is between 1.5 and 1.7 g/cm3. This calculates to a porosity between 0.43 and 0.36. Typical bulk density of clay soil is between 1.1 and 1.3 g/cm3. This calculates to a porosity between 0.58 and 0.51. This seems counterintuitive because clay soils are termed heavy, implying lower porosity. Heavy apparently refers to a gravitational moisture content effect in combination with terminology that harkens back to the relative force required to pull a tillage implement through the clayey soil at field moisture content as compared to sand.
Porosity of subsurface soil is lower than in surface soil due to compaction by gravity. Porosity of 0.20 is considered normal for unsorted gravel size material at depths below the biomantle. Porosity in finer material below the aggregating influence of pedogenesis can be expected to approximate this value.
Soil porosity is complex. Traditional models regard porosity as continuous. This fails to account for anomalous features and produces only approximate results. Furthermore it cannot help model the influence of environmental factors which affect pore geometry. A number of more complex models have been proposed, including fractals, bubble theory, cracking theory, Boolean grain process, packed sphere, and numerous other models. See also Characterisation of pore space in soil.
The ratio of holes to solid that the wind "sees". Aerodynamic porosity is less than visual porosity, by an amount that depends on the constriction of holes.
Several methods can be employed to measure porosity: