Measurements of the pressure drop and flow rate were obtained for dilute solutions of polyethylene oxide flowing through beds of packed beads. When the velocity was sufficiently high, the pressure drop was above that for a Newtonian fluid of equal viscosity, often considerably above, and this viscoelastic effect was explored by varying the concentration and molecular weight of the polymer, by testing solutions over a wide range of flow rates, and by using several bead sizes. The non-Newtonian behaviour was most pronounced at moderate flow rates; at the highest velocities, the data were pseudo-Newtonian in character, i.e. the pressure drop still exceeded that for a Newtonian fluid, but was linearly related to the velocity. For some solutions, the large deviation from Newtonian values occurred over such a short range of flow rates that there was an interval in which the pressure drop decreased with velocity. It was not possible, therefore, to obtain steady-state measurements in this regime and a gap appears in the data curve of pressure vs. velocity.
The pressure drop was monitored in steps along the test section, so that it was possible to detect molecular degradation of the solutions as they flowed through the porous media. In general, degradation was not extensive and the solutions became stably degraded by the midpoint of the test section. Degradation increased with velocity and, quite surprisingly, became more severe as the bead size increased.
A visual examination of the flow field revealed that the streamline pattern for the polymer solutions was the same as that for water. The large non-Newtonian effects were therefore due to changes in the stress field, and in an effort to understand these effects, an analysis was carried out which examined how the stresses generated by each component of the deformation, i.e. by shear and pure strain, influence the pressure drop. This analysis, combined with a study of onset data, indicates that onset and the sudden large departures from Newtonian values are probably due to an interaction between extensional and shearing deformation, and that the reduced viscoelastic effect of higher flow rates may be due to the dominance of extensional stresses.