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Insights into the rheology of cohesive granular media.

Abstract

Characterization and prediction of the "flowability" of powders are of paramount importance in many industries. However, our understanding of the flow of powders like cement or flour is sparse compared to the flow of coarse, granular media like sand. The main difficulty arises because of the presence of adhesive forces between the grains, preventing smooth and continuous flows. Several tests are used in industrial contexts to probe and quantify the "flowability" of powders. However, they remain empirical and would benefit from a detailed study of the physics controlling flow dynamics. Here, we attempt to fill the gap by performing intensive discrete numerical simulations of cohesive grains flowing down an inclined plane. We show that, contrary to what is commonly perceived, the cohesive nature of the flow is not entirely controlled by the interparticle adhesion, but that stiffness and inelasticity of the grains also play a significant role. For the same adhesion, stiffer and less dissipative grains yield a less cohesive flow. This observation is rationalized by introducing the concept of a dynamic, "effective" adhesive force, a single parameter, which combines the effects of adhesion, elasticity, and dissipation. Based on this concept, a rheological description of the flow is proposed for the cohesive grains. Our results elucidate the physics controlling the flow of cohesive granular materials, which may help in designing new approaches to characterize the "flowability" of powders.

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