Concentrated aqueous sodium chloride solution in clays at thermodynamic conditions of hydraulic fracturing: Insight from molecular dynamics simulations

M Svoboda and M Lisal, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 148, 222806 (2018).

DOI: 10.1063/1.5017166

To address a high salinity of flow-back water during hydraulic fracturing, we use molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and study the thermodynamics, structure, and diffusion of concentrated aqueous salt solution in clay nanopores. The concentrated solution results from the dissolution of a cubic NaCl nanocrystal, immersed in an aqueous NaCl solution of varying salt concentration and confined in clay pores of a width comparable to the crystal size. The size of the nanocrystal equals to about 18 A which is above a critical nucleus size. We consider a typical shale gas reservoir condition of 365 K and 275 bar, and we represent the clay pores as pyrophyllite and Na-montmorillonite (Na-MMT) slits. We employ the Extended Simple Point Charge (SPC/E) model for water, Joung-Cheatham model for ions, and CLAYFF for the slit walls. We impose the pressure in the normal direction and the resulting slit width varies from about 20 to 25 A when the salt concentration in the surrounding solution increased from zero to an oversaturated value. By varying the salt concentration, we observe two scenarios. First, the crystal dissolves and its dissolution time increases with increasing salt concentration. We describe the dissolution process in terms of the number of ions in the crystal, and the crystal size and shape. Second, when the salt concentration reaches a system solubility limit, the crystal grows and attains a new equilibrium size; the crystal comes into equilibrium with the surrounding saturated solution. After crystal dissolution, we carry out canonical MD simulations for the concentrated solution. We evaluate the hydration energy, density profiles, orientation distributions, hydrogen-bond network, radial distribution functions, and in-plane diffusion of water and ions to provide insight into the microscopic behaviour of the concentrated aqueous sodium chloride solution in interlayer galleries of the slightly hydrophobic pyrophyllite and hydrophilic Na-MMT pores. Published by AIP Publishing.

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