Numerical Modeling of Air-Water Flows in Bubble Columns and Airlift Reactors

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Virginia Tech


Bubble columns and airlift reactors were modeled numerically to better understand the hydrodynamics and analyze the mixing characteristics for each configuration. An Eulerian-Eulerian approach was used to model air as the dispersed phase within a continuous phase of water using the commercial software FLUENT. The Schiller-Naumann drag model was employed along with virtual mass and the standard k-e turbulence model. The equations were discretized using the QUICK scheme and solved with the SIMPLE coupling algorithm. The flow regimes of a bubble column were investigated by varying the column diameter and the inlet gas velocity using two-dimensional simulations. The typical characteristics of a homogeneous, slug, and heterogeneous flow were shown by examining gas holdup. The flow field predicted using two-dimensional simulations of the airlift reactor showed a regular oscillation of the gas flow due to recirculation from the downcomer and connectors, whereas the bubble column oscillations were random and resulted in gas flow through the center of the column. The profiles of gas holdup, gas velocity, and liquid velocity showed that the airlift reactor flow was asymmetric and the bubble column flow was symmetric about the vertical axis of the column. The average gas holdup in a 10.2 cm diameter bubble column was calculated and the results for the two-dimensional simulation of varying inlet gas velocities were similar to published experimental results. The average gas holdup in the airlift reactor for the three-dimensional simulations compared well with the experiments, and the two-dimensional simulations underpredicted the average gas holdup.



Computational fluid dynamics, airlift reactor, bubble column, two-phase flow