We performed complex resistivity (CR) measurements on laboratory columns to investigate changes in electrical properties as a result of varying ethanol (EtOH) concentration (0% to 30% v/v) in a sand–clay (bentonite) matrix. We applied Debye decomposition, a phenomenological model commonly used to fit CR data, to determine model parameters (time constant: τ, chargeability: m, and normalized chargeability: mn). The CR data showed a significant (P ≤ 0.001) time-dependent variation in the clay driven polarization response (~ 12 mrad) for 0% EtOH concentration. This temporal variation probably results from the clay–water reaction kinetics trending towards equilibrium in the sand–clay–water system. The clay polarization is significantly suppressed (P ≤ 0.001) for both measured phase (ϕ) and imaginary conductivity (σ″) with increasing EtOH concentration. Normalized chargeability consistently decreases (by up to a factor of ~ 2) as EtOH concentration increases from 0% to 10% and 10 to 20%, respectively. We propose that such suppression effects are associated with alterations in the electrical double layer (EDL) at the clay–fluid interface due to (a) strong EtOH adsorption on clay, and (b) complex intermolecular EtOH–water interactions and subsequent changes in ionic mobility on the surface in the EDL. Changes in the CR data following a change of the saturating fluid from EtOH 20% to plain water indicate strong hysteresis effects in the electrical response, which we attribute to persistent EtOH adsorption on clay. Our results demonstrate high sensitivity of CR measurements to clay–EtOH interactions in porous media, indicating the potential application of this technique for characterization and monitoring of ethanol contamination in sediments containing clays.
Additional publication details
Complex resistivity signatures of ethanol in sand-clay mixtures