On the stability of the production of bubbles in yield-stress fluid using flow-focusing and T-junction devices
We investigate experimentally the stability of bubble production in yield-stress fluids (YSF) and highly viscous silicone oil, using flow-focusing and T-junction devices. When the exit channel is initially pre-filled with the fluid and the gas is pressure-driven, the production is highly unstable, despite a regular frequency of bubble production in the junction. As observed for pressure-driven bubble trains in Newtonian fluids, we report that two mechanisms can explain these observations: (i) drastic reduction of the hydrodynamic pressure drop along the channel during the transient bubble production, which induces a rapid increase of the gas flow rate and (ii) thin film deposition resulting in a cascade of plug break-up and bubble coalescence. While the drastic reduction of the pressure drop is inevitable in such two-phase flows, we show that modifying the surfaces of the channel can help to stabilize the system when the continuous phase is a YSF. To do so, we measure the thickness of the film deposited on the channel wall for rough and smooth channels. Our results are rationalized by introducing the inverse of the Bingham number Bi-1 comparing the viscous stress to the yield stress. For Bi-1 ≥ 1, a fast fluidization process associated to efficient deposition of YSF on the channel wall leads to a rapid destabilization of bubble production. However, for Bi-1 < 1, the deposition driven by capillarity can be hindered by the wall-slip induced by the existence of the yield stress: the thickness of the deposited film is very thin and corresponds to the equivalent roughness of the channels. It is typically 40 μm thick for rough surfaces and below the limit of resolution of our set-up for smooth surfaces. In this regime of Bi-1 and for smooth surfaces, the length of the plugs barely vanishes, thus the start-up flow is less prone to destabilization. These results therefore potentially open routes to steady production of aerated YSF on smooth channels in the regime of small Bi-1.