Emulsion formation within microchannels enables smaller mean droplet sizes for new commercial applications such as personal care, medical, and food products among others. When operated at a high flow rate per channel, the resulting emulsion mixture creates a high wall shear stress along the walls of the narrow microchannel. This high fluid-wall shear stress of continuous phase material past a dispersed phase, introduced through a permeable wall, enables the formation of small emulsion droplets — one drop at a time. A challenge to the scale-up of this technology has been to understand the behavior of non-Newtonian fluids under high wall shear stress. A further complication has been the change in fluid properties with composition along the length of the microchannel as the emulsion is formed. Many of the predictive models for non-Newtonian emulsion fluids were derived at low shear rates and have shown excellent agreement between predictions and experiments. The power law relationship for non-Newtonian emulsions obtained at low shear rates breaks down under the high shear environment created by high throughputs in small microchannels. The small dimensions create higher velocity gradients at the wall, resulting in larger apparent viscosity. Extrapolation of the power law obtained in low shear environment may lead to under-predictions of pressure drop in microchannels. This work describes the results of a shear-thinning fluid that generates larger pressure drop in a high-wall shear stress microchannel environment than predicted from traditional correlations.

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