Visual representation and characterization of three-dimensional hydrofracturing cracks within heterogeneous rock through 3D printing and transparent models

Peng Liu, Yang Ju, Pathegama G. Ranjith, Zemin Zheng, Li Wang, Ayal Wanniarachchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


The heterogeneity of unconventional reservoir rock tremendously affects its hydrofracturing behavior. A visual representation and accurate characterization of the three-dimensional (3D) growth and distribution of hydrofracturing cracks within heterogeneous rocks is of particular use to the design and implementation of hydrofracturing stimulation of unconventional reservoirs. However, because of the difficulties involved in visually representing and quantitatively characterizing a 3D hydrofracturing crack-network, this issue remains a challenge. In this paper, a novel method is proposed for physically visualizing and quantitatively characterizing the 3D hydrofracturing crack-network distributed through a heterogeneous structure based on a natural glutenite sample. This method incorporates X-ray microfocus computed tomography (μCT), 3D printing models and hydrofracturing triaxial tests to represent visually the heterogeneous structure, and the 3D crack growth and distribution within a transparent rock model during hydrofracturing. The coupled effects of material heterogeneity and confining geostress on the 3D crack initiation and propagation were analyzed. The results indicate that the breakdown pressure of a heterogeneous rock model is significantly affected by material heterogeneity and confining geostress. The measured breakdown pressures of heterogeneous models are apparently different from those predicted by traditional theories. This study helps to elucidate the quantitative visualization and characterization of the mechanism and influencing factors that determine the hydrofracturing crack initiation and propagation in heterogeneous reservoir rocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-294
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Science & Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • 3D printing
  • Coupled effects of heterogeneity and geostress
  • Heterogeneous rock
  • Hydrofracturing cracks
  • Transparentized structures
  • Visual representation and characterization

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