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Modelling for Nuclear Engineers: Thermal Hydraulics

Alexandros Kenich 30 th January 2015

Faculty of Engineering Imperial College London

SW7 2AZ

1

– Introduction

The equations governing the flows of fluids in the physical world are difficult to solve in all but the most simple of problems. It is only recently with the advent of computers that scientists and engineers have been able to use numerical techniques to simulate fluid flows in complex geometries, such as in the primary loop of a pressurised water reactor (PWR). These algorithms and numerical techniques encompass a growing field known as computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

In this report, several simple CFD simulations were created by using the openFoam package and the results were studied in order to gain an understanding of the strengths and limitations of these types of software. Three different exercises were completed in this lab:

Laminar flow in a lid-driven cavity to analyse the effects of increasing the mesh resolution and the Reynolds number.

Laminar flow in a duct with a backward-facing step to analyse the effects of changing the flow viscosity and meshing parameters.

Turbulent

flow

in

a

duct

with

a

backward-facing step to

analyse the effects of turbulence on pressure and velocity distributions.

In each case, confidence

in

the

results

was

established

by

performing appropriate mesh convergence studies.

  • 2 – Methodology

All exercises in this lab were completed by using openFoam on a

remote computer. This computer was connected to by using

a

secure shell (via any terminal) while directories and files were

viewed using WinSCP.

  • 2.1 – Defining the Geometry

A set of coordinates (in a global reference frame) are specified in the

blockMeshDict file which correspond to the vertices of the geometric

model. These points are then grouped together to define the various

faces of the model and any boundary conditions at these faces. In

the case of the cavity exercise, all faces are static except the top

face (the lid), which is given a velocity in the x-direction.

  • 2.2 - Meshing

Before performing any flow calculations, the volume that is to be

analysed must first be split into

multiple discrete regions in a

process called meshing.

An example

of such

a

mesh with

and

without cell grading can be seen in Figure 1. The cell size in the

mesh influences the accuracy of the results, with smaller

cells

generally leading to

more accurate solutions at the expense of

greater computational costs. In order to maintain numerical stability

in the simulation, a quantity known as the Courant number must be

less than or equal to 1. The Courant number is defined as:

 

Co= δx δt U ¿

 

(2.1)

Where δt

is

the

time step,

¿U¿

is

the

magnitude of the

velocity, and

δx

is the cell size in the velocity direction. If a finer

mesh is desired (smaller

δx

), the Courant number will increase

unless

the

time

step

is

also

decreased

by the same proportion.

Higher resolution meshes will often require very small time steps in

order to maintain a Courant number less than 1, resulting in

simulations

which

take

significant

time

resources to complete [1].

and/or

computational

Figure 1 - 25x25 mesh of cavity geometry. Left mesh is uniform while right is graded.

Figure 1 - 25x25 mesh of cavity geometry. Left mesh is uniform while right is graded.

  • 2.3 – Running Jobs

The next step is to submit the job to the remote computer running

openFoam via the submit_foam command. Once the job is complete,

the relevant files are output in the current directory. These are then

copied onto the local machine in order to visualise the results in the

ParaView program.

  • 2.4 – ParaView

The final step is to process the results in ParaView to produce

relevant plots and make sense of the data. ParaView allows the user

to see a visualisation of the volume mesh and any mesh grading

which was applied in the first step. Scalar scenes are also produced

to analyse the evolution of flow behaviour over the length of the

simulation.

3 – Results and Discussion

  • 3.1 – Lid-driven Cavity

The first exercise followed the lid-driven cavity tutorial as described

in the openFoam guide. Figure 2 shows several visualisations

created as part of the tutorial to gain

capabilities of ParaView.

a

feel

for

some of

the

created as part of the tutorial to gain capabilities of ParaView. a feel for some of
created as part of the tutorial to gain capabilities of ParaView. a feel for some of

Figure 2 –top left to bottom right: Pressure map, velocity arrows, stream tracer, graded mesh.

3.1.1 – Increasing Reynolds Number

The Reynolds number is given by:

= DUρ

μ

(3.1)

Where D is the characteristic length, U is the flow velocity,

ρ

is

the fluid density and μ is the fluid viscosity [2]. The quantity

μ

ρ

is known as the kinematic viscosity; this quantity was decreased in

the openFoam transportProperties file in order to increase the

Reynolds number. It was found that increasing the Reynolds number

reduced the depth at which the effects of the moving lid were felt by

the flow. Higher Reynolds numbers mean that the inertial forces of

the flow become more pronounced than the viscous forces, and

therefore the boundary layer thickness (a phenomenon influenced

by viscosity) is reduced. Peak pressures always occurred at the top

left and top right corners, as shown in Figure 2. Peak velocities

always occurred at the moving wall due to the no-slip condition.

3.1.2 – Peak Shear Stresses

The peak shear stresses occur at the wall. This is because the shear

stress is a function of the velocity gradient as follows [3]:

τ=μ

du

dy

(3.2)

The greatest velocity gradient is always at the moving wall because

it drives the flow at the highest speed due to the no-slip condition.

This can be seen in the velocity plot in Figure 3.

reduced the depth at which the effects of the moving lid were felt by the flow.

Figure 3 - Plot of velocity in x-direction against bottom wall distance.

This is an important quantity

in the context of nuclear thermal

hydraulics because heat is removed by contacting the hot fuel

cladding with a fluid coolant, and the wall shear stress tells us how

effective this contact is. At a microscopic level, greater contact at

this interface allows greater heat diffusion into the coolant via the

interaction of atoms.

  • 3.1.3 – Confidence in Results

Confidence in

the

results

was

achieved

by

performing a

convergence study of the maximum pressure with increasing mesh

resolution as shown in Figure 4.

Peak Pressure (Pa)

12 10 8 6 4 2 0 0 500 1000 1500 2000
12
10
8
6
4
2
0
0
500
1000
1500
2000

Number of Cells

Figure 4 - Plot of peak pressure against number of cells showing convergence.

It was found that the peak pressure converged towards a value of

~10.1Pa for a 40x40 mesh.

  • 3.1.4 – Mesh Grading

The type of graded mesh used for the cavity exercise was shown

earlier in Figure 2. The grading used in this case was 0.2 in the y

direction. This focused on improving the cell density closer to the

moving wall because this is the region where the greatest changes

in pressure and velocity occurred and therefore refinement was

required to improve accuracy of the results.

3.2 – Backward-facing Step (Laminar)

The backward-facing step geometry is shown in Figure 5 with a

superimposed velocity distribution.

3.2 – Backward-facing Step (Laminar) The backward-facing step geometry is shown in Figure 5 with a

Figure 5 - Geometry of backward-facing step with typical laminar flow pattern.

3.2.1 – Changing Initial Velocity

The initial velocity of the flow was studied at 10ms -1 and 100ms -1 .

Scenes of the two scenarios are shown in Figure 6. The pressure

distributions along the duct are also shown in Figure 7. In both

cases, the flow initially accelerates due to the pressure gradient in

the duct. The 10ms -1 case shows a gradual decrease in pressure

with a drop below gauge at the region around the step, indicating

some level of backflow. Shortly after the step, the velocity

distribution reaches a steady state. The 100ms -1 case shows that the

flow is moving so fast that it does not reach a steady state velocity

distribution before it leaves the duct. The pressure distribution does

not show a gradual decrease as in the slow case. Instead, there is a

negative pressure gradient in a large region at the centre of the

duct.

3.2 – Backward-facing Step (Laminar) The backward-facing step geometry is shown in Figure 5 with a

Figure 6 – Velocity distributions for U = 10ms -1 and U = 100ms -1 respectively.

Figure 7 - Pressure distributions for U = 10ms and U = 100ms respectively. 3.2.2 –

Figure 7 - Pressure distributions for U = 10ms -1 and U = 100ms -1 respectively.

  • 3.2.2 – Confidence in Results

The convergence study for this exercise was performed by looking

at the peak pressure as a function of the number of cells, as shown

in Figure 8. The initial velocity used was 1ms -1 in order to keep the

Courant number low. In this case, the lowest resolution (20x20)*8

mesh was already close to convergence, with only a 0.12%

deviation from the convergent value of 39.75Pa. This may have

been due to the greater number of cells over which the flow evolved

than in the cavity case.

Peak Pressure (Pa)

39.76 39.75 39.74 39.73 39.72 39.71 39.7 39.69 39.68 39.67 0 5000 10000 15000
39.76
39.75
39.74
39.73
39.72
39.71
39.7
39.69
39.68
39.67
0
5000
10000
15000

Number of Cells

Figure 8 - Plot of peak pressure against number of cells for backward-step case.

  • 3.2.3 – Mesh Grading

The mesh grading used in this exercise is shown in Figure 9. This

focused on the regions immediately after the step where the flow

pattern suddenly changes.

Figure 9 - Graded mesh for the backward-facing step. 3.2.4 – Limitations of the Analysis This

Figure 9 - Graded mesh for the backward-facing step.

  • 3.2.4 – Limitations of the Analysis

This analysis has limitations as a result of the flow regime constraint

(laminar). The sudden increase in cross-sectional area as the flow

reaches the step will normally increase the local Reynolds number

since the characteristic length has increased. The flow velocity does

decrease, but in a more realistic model we would see a more

complicated flow pattern than that in Figure 5 immediately after the

step due to this transition [3].

Other limitations are due to the 2D only consideration (implying

infinite length in the z-direction) and the incompressibility of the

flow. In a model where the flow is compressible, we should see some

choking and even increasing velocity (for Mach > 1) of the flow at

higher speeds [4].

3.3 – Backward-facing Step (Turbulent)

  • 3.3.1 – Changing Reynolds Number

A high and low Reynolds number (kinematic viscosities of 0.0001

and 0.1 respectively) for the flow were modelled with the pisoFoam

program which provides a turbulent model for the fluid. Figure 10

shows the x-component velocity distribution in both cases. It can be

seen that for low Reynolds numbers, the flow is similar to the

laminar case as is expected. For high Reynolds numbers however,

the flow becomes chaotic immediately after the step and then

quickly forms a velocity distribution that is almost independent of

the spatial position.

Figure 10 - High and low Reynolds number velocity distributions respectively. 3.3.2 – Pressure Change The

Figure 10 - High and low Reynolds number velocity distributions respectively.

  • 3.3.2 – Pressure Change

The pressure change for the low Reynolds number case was again

very similar to the laminar case, as shown in Figure 11. The high

Reynolds number case however, produced a localised low-pressure

singularity, possibly indicating the formation of a vortex.

Figure 10 - High and low Reynolds number velocity distributions respectively. 3.3.2 – Pressure Change The
Figure 10 - High and low Reynolds number velocity distributions respectively. 3.3.2 – Pressure Change The

Figure 11 - High and low Reynolds number pressure distributions respectively.

  • 3.3.3 – Confidence in Results

To achieve confidence in the results, a mesh convergence study was

done for the low Reynolds number case (kinematic viscosity = 0.1)

because pressure values for the turbulent case were unpredictable.

A (40x40)*8 mesh was not tested because of the time taken to

produce the mesh being too great. A plot of the convergence of

peak pressure is shown in Figure 12.

 

38

36

34

Peak Pressure (Pa)

32

30

28

26

0 5000 10000 15000
0
5000
10000
15000

Number of Cells

Figure 12 - Plot of peak pressure against number of cells for the turbulent duct case.

The pressure can be seen to approach a convergent value, but a

finer mesh must be used before we can be sufficiently confidence

that the results produced are fully converged.

3.3.4 – Special Treatments at Walls

For the turbulent case, special treatments are used at the walls

because turbulent flows can generate very large velocity gradients

and therefore shear stresses near the walls [1]. These must be

limited to avoid instabilities arising in the simulation.

3.4 – Multiphase Flows

Multiphase flows are encountered in nuclear reactors wherever

nucleate boiling (or higher boiling regimes) is involved, such as in a

boiling water reactor (BWR). In this case, the flow consists of the

liquid phase and the gas phase. Such a system can be modelled by

constructing definitions of the flow based on the void fraction and

approximations such as a two-phase density. Such a two-phase

density can then be used to obtain derived quantities such as the

Reynolds number [5].

4 – Conclusion

Fluid flow in a lid-driven cavity and a duct with a backward-facing

step was modelled using the openFoam software package, with

turbulent flow also being modelled for the backward-facing step. It

was found that in the lid-driven cavity exercise, larger Reynolds

numbers would decrease the size of the boundary layer. Higher

resolution meshes were also found to provide better-converged

solutions, at the expense of longer computation times.

The laminar case for the duct exercise showed that at low speeds,

the flow will first feel a disturbance at the step which disconnects

the boundary layer, and then reach a steady state velocity

distribution in the larger duct with a new boundary layer formed. In

a small region around the step, the local pressure fell below gauge

and some backflow was observed. At higher speeds, the flow did not

have enough time to reach a new steady state velocity distribution

in the larger duct and a large region of low pressure was observed

after the step.

The turbulent case for the duct showed that low Reynolds numbers

produce results similar to those in the laminar case as would be

expected. At high Reynolds numbers however, the flow becomes

chaotic after the step and no longer resembles the laminar case

with a clear boundary layer.

Further studies should be done to optimise grading and mesh sizes

as these would significantly help reduce the computational costs of

the simulations, particularly the turbulent flow scenario where

pressure and velocity distributions are more complex. Other

improvements include using compressible models to analyse the

effect of choking and also studying the effect of a forward-facing

step.

5 – References

[1]

Bluck. M, “Modelling for Nuclear Engineers: Thermal

Hydraulics”, 2014

[2]

Happel, John, and Howard Brenner, eds. Low Reynolds number

hydrodynamics: with special applications to particulate media.

Vol. 1. Springer Science & Business Media, 1983.

[3]

Fox, Robert W., Alan T. McDonald, and Philip J. Pritchard.

Introduction to fluid mechanics. John Wiley & Sons, 2006.

[4]

Courant, Richard, and Kurt Otto Friedrichs. Supersonic flow

and shock waves. Vol. 21. Springer Science & Business Media,

1977.

[5]

Sun, Licheng, and Kaichiro Mishima. "Evaluation analysis of

prediction methods for two-phase flow pressure drop in mini-

channels." International Journal of Multiphase Flow 35.1

(2009): 47-54.