Predicting colloid transport through saturated porous media: A critical review

Ian L. Molnar, William P. Johnson, Jason I. Gerhard, Clinton S. Willson, Denis M. O'carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding and predicting colloid transport and retention in water‐saturated porous media is important for the protection of human and ecological health. Early applications of colloid transport research before the 1990s included the removal of pathogens in granular drinking water filters. Since then, interest has expanded significantly to include such areas as source zone protection of drinking water systems and injection of nanometals for contaminated site remediation. This review summarizes predictive tools for colloid transport from the pore to field scales. First, we review experimental breakthrough and retention of colloids under favorable and unfavorable colloid/collector interactions (i.e., no significant and significant colloid‐surface repulsion, respectively). Second, we review the continuum‐scale modeling strategies used to describe observed transport behavior. Third, we review the following two components of colloid filtration theory: (i) mechanistic force/torque balance models of pore‐scale colloid trajectories and (ii) approximating correlation equations used to predict colloid retention. The successes and limitations of these approaches for favorable conditions are summarized, as are recent developments to predict colloid retention under the unfavorable conditions particularly relevant to environmental applications. Fourth, we summarize the influences of physical and chemical heterogeneities on colloid transport and avenues for their prediction. Fifth, we review the upscaling of mechanistic model results to rate constants for use in continuum models of colloid behavior at the column and field scales. Overall, this paper clarifies the foundation for existing knowledge of colloid transport and retention, features recent advances in the field, critically assesses where existing approaches are successful and the limits of their application, and highlights outstanding challenges and future research opportunities. These challenges and opportunities include improving mechanistic descriptions, and subsequent correlation equations, for nanoparticle (i.e., Brownian particle) transport through soil, developing mechanistic descriptions of colloid retention in so‐called “unfavorable” conditions via methods such as the “discrete heterogeneity” approach, and employing imaging techniques such as X‐ray tomography to develop realistic expressions for grain topology and mineral distribution that can aid the development of these mechanistic approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6804-6845
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2015


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