Computational Modeling and Simulations of Hydrodynamics for Air-Water External Loop Airlift Reactors

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Virginia Tech


External loop airlift reactors are widely used for biochemical applications such as syngas fermentation and wastewater treatment. To further understand the inherent gas-liquid flow physics within the reactors, computational modeling and simulations of hydrodynamics for air-water external loop airlift reactors were investigated. The gas-liquid flow dynamics in a bubble column were simulated using a FORTRAN code developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, CFDLib, which employs an Eulerian-Eulerian ensemble averaged method. A two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system was used to conduct an extensive grid resolution study; it was found that grid cells smaller than the bubble diameter produced unstable solutions. Next, closure models for drag force and turbulent viscosity were investigated for a simple bubble column geometry. The effects of using a bubble pressure model and two drag coefficient models, the White model and the Schiller-Naumann model, were investigated. The bubble pressure model performed best for homogeneous (low velocity) flows and the Schiller-Naumann model was best for all flow regimes. Based on the studies for bubble column flows, an external loop airlift reactor was simulated using both two- and three-dimensional coordinates and results for gas holdup and riser velocity agreed better with experimental data for the 3D simulations. It was concluded that when performing 2D and 3D simulations, care must be taken when specifying the effective bubble diameter size, especially at high flow rates.

Population balance models (PBM) for bubble break-up and coalescence were implemented into CFDLib, validated with experiments, and simulated for the external loop airlift reactor at high inlet superficial gas velocities. The PBM predictions for multiple bubble sizes were comparable with the single bubble size simulations; however, the PBM simulations better predicted the formation of the gas bubble in the downcomer. The 3D PBM simulations also gave better predictions for the average bubble diameter size in the riser. It was concluded that a two-dimensional domain is adequate for gas-liquid flow simulations of a simple bubble column geometry, whereas three-dimensional simulations are required for the complex airlift reactor geometry. To conclude, a two-fluid Eulerian-Eulerian model coupled with a PBM is needed for quantitative as well as physical predictions of gas-liquid external loop airlift reactor flows at high inlet superficial gas velocities.



Numerical Simulations, Computational fluid dynamics, Hydrodynamics, Two-Phase Flow, Airlift Reactor