The slow flow of granular materials is often marked by the existence of narrow shear layers, adjacent to large regions that suffer little or no deformation. This behaviour, in the regime where shear stress is generated primarily by the frictional interactions between grains, has so far eluded theoretical description. In this paper, we present a rigid-plastic frictional Cosserat model that captures thin shear layers by incorporating a microscopic length scale. We treat the granular medium as a Cosserat continuum, which allows the existence of localised couple stresses and, therefore, the possibility of an asymmetric stress tensor. In addition, the local rotation is an independent field variable and is not necessarily equal to the vorticity. The angular momentum balance, which is implicitly satisfied for a classical continuum, must now be solved in conjunction with the linear momentum balances. We extend the critical state model, used in soil plasticity, for a Cosserat continuum and obtain predictions for flow in plane and cylindrical Couette devices. The velocity profile predicted by our model is in qualitative agreement with available experimental data. In addition, our model can predict scaling laws for the shear layer thickness as a function of the Couette gap, which must be verified in future experiments. Most significantly, our model can determine the velocity field in viscometric flows, which classical plasticity-based model cannot.
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