Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void (i.e., "empty") spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0–1, or as apercentage between 0–100%. The term is used in multiple fields including pharmaceutics, ceramics, metallurgy, materials, manufacturing, earth sciences and construction.
Porosity in earth sciences and construction
Used in geology, hydrogeology, soil science, and building science, the porosity of a porous medium (such as rock or sediment) describes the fraction of void space in the material, where the void may contain, for example, air or water. It is defined by the ratio:
where VV is the volume of void-space (such as fluids) and VT is the total or bulk volume of material, including the solid and void components. Both the mathematical symbols and are used to denote porosity.
Porosity is a fraction between 0 and 1, typically ranging from less than 0.01 for solid granite to more than 0.5 for peat and clay. It may also be represented in percent terms by multiplying the fraction by 100.
The porosity of a rock, or sedimentary layer, is an important consideration when attempting to evaluate the potential volume of water or hydrocarbons it may contain. Sedimentary porosity is a complicated function of many factors, including but not limited to: rate of burial, depth of burial, the nature of the connate fluids, the nature of overlying sediments (which may impede fluid expulsion). One commonly used relationship between porosity and depth is given by the Athy (1930) equation:
where is the surface porosity, is the compaction coefficient (m−1) and is depth (m).
Normal particle density is assumed to be approximately 2.65 g/cm3, although a better estimation can be obtained by examining the lithology of the particles.
Porosity and hydraulic conductivity
Porosity can be proportional to hydraulic conductivity; for two similar sandy aquifers, the one with a higher porosity will typically have a higher hydraulic conductivity (more open area for the flow of water), but there are many complications to this relationship. The principal complication is that there is not a direct proportionality between porosity and hydraulic conductivity but rather an inferred proportionality. There is a clear proportionality between pore throat radii and hydraulic conductivity. Also, there tends to be a proportionality between pore throat radii and pore volume. If the proportionality between pore throat radii and porosity exists then a proportionality between porosity and hydraulic conductivity may exist. However, as grain size and/or sorting decreases the proportionality between pore throat radii and porosity begins to fail and therefore so does the proportionality between porosity and hydraulic conductivity. For example: clays typically have very low hydraulic conductivity (due to their small pore throat radii) but also have very high porosities (due to the structured nature of clay minerals), which means clays can hold a large volume of water per volume of bulk material, but they do not release water rapidly and therefore have low hydraulic conductivity.