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Chemical Engineering Science 65 (2010) 3001–3008

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Chemical Engineering Science


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ces

Particle suspension in top-covered unbaffled tanks


A. Brucato , A. Cipollina, G. Micale, F. Scargiali, A. Tamburini
Dipartimento di Ingegneria Chimica dei Processi e dei Materiali, Universita di Palermo, Viale delle Scienze, Ed.6, 90128 Palermo, Italy

a r t i c l e in fo abstract

Article history: Unbaffled stirred tanks are seldom employed in the process industry as they are considered poorer
Received 8 June 2009 mixers than baffled vessels. However, they may be expected to provide significant advantages in a wide
Received in revised form range of applications (e.g. crystallization, food and pharmaceutical processes, etc.), where the presence
12 January 2010
of baffles is often undesirable. In the present work solid–liquid suspension in an unbaffled stirred tank
Accepted 22 January 2010
Available online 29 January 2010
is investigated. The tank was equipped with a top-cover in order to avoid vortex formation. A novel
experimental method (the ‘‘steady cone radius method’’, SCRM) is proposed to determine
Keywords: experimentally the minimum impeller speed at which solids are completely suspended. Experimental
Mixing Njs and power consumption data are provided over fairly wide ranges for particle size, density and
Multiphase reactors
concentration. Dependence of Njs on particle density and concentration is similar to that observed in
Particle
baffled tank. Conversely, a negligible dependence of particle diameter on Njs is observed in the unbaffled
Slurries
Suspension tank, a difference from baffled vessels with important practical implications.
Unbaffled tanks Finally, the mechanical power required to achieve complete suspension in unbaffled tanks is shown
Just-suspended speed to be much smaller than in baffled vessels. This, in conjunction with the previously ascertained
excellent particle-fluid mass-transfer promotion, could make unbaffled tanks a best choice for many
solid–liquid operations, where mass transfer is the main limiting factor.
& 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Many of these works relied on the visual assessment of Njs


according to the method first introduced by Zwietering (1958)
Mechanically agitated vessels are widely employed for a variety which, apart from being subject to substantial uncertainties, gives
of chemical processes involving particulate solids suspension. no information on what happens at agitation speeds below Njs. In
Almost invariably the solid phase is required to participate in this respect, Brucato et al. (1997) and Micale et al. (2002)
mass-transfer phenomena, and therefore it is important to provide proposed a novel technique (Pressure Gauge Technique) for the
enough agitation to suspend all particles. Below this full suspen- quantitative assessment of the particle mass suspended at any
sion state the total solid–liquid interfacial area is not completely agitation speed. The same technique was also employed for gas–
or efficiently utilized, while above this speed the solid–liquid solid–liquid agitated systems (Micale et al., 2000).
mass-transfer rate increases only slowly with agitation intensity. A significant effort has been devoted to investigate the power
Many research efforts have been devoted to the determination consumption requirements of solid–liquid suspensions in baffled
of the minimum rotational speed required to attain full particle stirred tanks (Bohnet and Niesmak, 1980; Chudacek, 1982;
suspension, Njs, and its dependence on a number of geometrical, Bubbico et al., 1998; Micheletti et al., 2003; Rewatkar et al.,
physical and operational variables (Zwietering, 1958; Nienow, 1991; Bujalski et al., 1999; Raghava Rao et al., 1988) as well as in
1968; Baldi et al., 1978; Raghava Rao and Joshi, 1988; Armenante aerated solid–liquid stirred vessels (Frijlink et al., 1990; Pantula
and Uehara Nagamine, 1998; among the others). A number of and Ahmed, 1997; Birch and Ahmed, 1997).
studies focused on three phase systems; among these Nienow Bohnet and Niesmak (1980) were the first to show that power
et al. (1986), Frijlink et al. (1990), Micale et al. (2000) and Dohi number depends on particle loading. Bubbico et al. (1998)
et al. (2004) addressed the problem of correlating the agitator highlighted that increase in power consumption due to the
speed for complete suspension under gassed conditions. Recently presence of particles cannot be satisfactorily predicted by simply
Kuzmanic and Ljubicic (2001), Bao et al. (2005) and Tagawa et al. substituting the average suspension density for liquid density.
(2006), investigated the draw-down of floating solid particles in This is especially true when large particles are involved and
aerated baffled vessels. particle fraction exceeds 4% by volume, allegedly due to energy
dissipations connected with solid–liquid friction and particle–
particle collisions. Also Micheletti et al. (2003) investigated power
 Corresponding author. Tel.: + 39 91 23863716; fax: + 39 91 7025020. number (NP) dependence on impeller speed, particle loading and
E-mail addresses: abrucato@dicpm.unipa.it, particle size, for baffled tanks stirred by a Rushton turbine. They
alberto.brucato@poste.it (A. Brucato). observed that NP increases with N until complete suspension

0009-2509/$ - see front matter & 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.ces.2010.01.026
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3002 A. Brucato et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 65 (2010) 3001–3008

conditions are achieved. At higher rotational speeds they did not equipped with a six bladed Rushton turbine with diameter equal
observe further variations of NP, whose final values (computed by to T/2 and impeller clearance equal to T/3 (Fig. 1).
considering the average mixture density) did not exactly collapse The tank was provided with a top-cover to avoid vortex
on the relevant single phase (liquid-only) value, as a difference formation on the free surface. The seal between the cover and the
from Herringe (1979). tank was guaranteed by a gasket o-ring. A plexiglass vessel
A similar trend of NP versus N was observed by Raghava together with a transparent support and a 451 inclined mirror
Rao et al. (1988) and by Rewatkar et al. (1991). These authors also (positioned below the tank support) were used in order to ease
suggested that Njs may be directly assessed from power measure- visual observation of tank bottom. A simple compact digital
ments as the first impeller speed at which NP reaches its camera, allowing shutter speed to be manually set, was used for
final constant value. Finally, for a tank equipped with a propeller image acquisition. Distilled water and solid particles of different
Bohnet and Niesmak (1980) found an increasing–decreasing materials and size, as summarised in Table 1, were employed for
behaviour of NP with a relative maximum practically coinciding the experimentation.
with Njs. Particle ‘‘just-suspended’’ conditions may refer to the original
Very little attention has been devoted so far to solid–liquid Zwietering definition (off-bottom suspension) or to ‘‘on-bottom’’
suspension in unbaffled stirred tanks. Yet, there are cases in which suspension (more realistic with heavy particles). In any case what
the use of unbaffled tanks may be desirable, as for instance for is important is insuring that the surrounding liquid phase is
wetting and drawing-down particles to be incorporated into continuously renewed around all particles so that they are
liquids, or in crystallizers where the presence of baffles may allowed to effectively participate into mass-transfer phenomena.
promote particle attrition (Mazzarotta, 1993; Hekmat et al., 2007) For Njs assessment, in the present case, a suitable steady cone
and in precipitation processes where baffles could suffer incrusta- radius method (SCRM) was devised to assist identification of on-
tion problems (Rousseaux et al., 2001). They are also employed in bottom just-suspended conditions in unbaffled vessels. It takes
food and pharmaceutical industries, where vessel cleanness is a advantage from the observation that in the unbaffled vessel here
topic of primary importance (Assirelli et al., 2008) and in adopted, at any rotational speed below Njs the unsuspended
biological applications where cell damage is to be avoided (Aloi particles form a sort of steady cone laying over bottom centre. The
and Cherry, 1996). Finally, unbaffled vessels are commonly steady cone radius is quite easily discriminated from the moving
adopted for the case of laminar mixing of viscous systems, particles in images of the tank bottom taken with relatively low
typically in conjunction with large close-clearance impellers, shutter speeds (large image capture times), as steady particles are
since dead regions may form in the proximities of baffles neatly visible while moving particles are strongly blurred and
(Lamberto et al., 1996). Notably, higher values of the mass- therefore can be easily distinguished from the former, as it can be
transfer coefficient may be obtained in unbaffled vessels, at the observed in Fig. 2. The exposure times needed are typically of the
same value of mechanical power dissipation, especially when order of one tenth of second, though larger exposure times are
large density differences exist between the liquid and solid phases even more effective. All the acquired images are collected and
(Grisafi et al., 1994; Yoshida et al., 2008).
Very few works have addressed so far the topic of particle
suspension in unbaffled vessels. These concern unsteadily
forward–reverse moving impellers, either rotating (Tezura et al.,
2007; Yoshida et al., 2008) or axially moving (Hirata et al. 2009).
In particular Tezura et al. (2007) experimentally assessed just-
suspended conditions and the relevant power consumption. Their
results were found to follow a slightly modified version of the
well-known Zwietering equation commonly employed for baffled
tanks (Zwietering, 1958). In addition, the just-suspended power
consumption was found to be lower than that required in a
conventional baffled tank. Yoshida et al. (2008) measured the H
liquid and particle flow fields, while Hirata et al. (2009) measured l
power consumption and mixing times in particle suspensions
using a mixing system with a disk impeller moving up and down w
in a cylindrical vessel (recipro-mixing). C d
In the present work the problem of particle suspension in
D
unbaffled tanks stirred by common (continuously rotating) im-
pellers is addressed for the first time. A special steady cone radius
method (SCRM) was devised to assist the Njs assessment. Power T
consumption measurements for a number of operating conditions
were also performed. Finally, just-suspended power requirements D 1
=
(power consumption corresponding to the Njs value) were collected T 2
and compared with the relevant values in baffled tanks. The vortex H
=1
formation problem has been addressed and resolved by the T
adoption of a top-cover. It is worth noting that, though this choice C 1
limits the extent of the present work to a specific system, it =
T 3
represents an easy design solution to avoid vortex formation. w 1
=
D 5
2. Experimental l 1
=
D 5
Experiments were performed using a cylindrical tank with
internal tank diameter T= 0.19 m and square configuration (H= T), Fig. 1. Stirred vessel employed for the experimentation (T= 0.19 m).
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A. Brucato et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 65 (2010) 3001–3008 3003

Table 1
Experimental suspensions investigated.

Material dp (mm) Average dp (mm) Density (kg/m3) Particles concentration (%w/w)

Silica particles 212–250 231 2400 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5


250–300 275 2400 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
355–425 390 2400 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
425–500 463 2400 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
500–600 550 2400 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
850–1000 925 2400 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
Glass ballottini 500–600 550 2500 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
850–1000 925 2500 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
Corundum 212–250 231 3850 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
425–500 463 3850 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5
500–600 550 3850 2.5–5–7.5–10–12.5

0.5

0.4

2* (cone radius) / T [-]


0.3

0.2

2 Rc Njs
0.1

0
0 100 200 300 400 500
rpm

Fig. 3. Typical trend of particle-cone-radius versus impeller speed with linear


extrapolation of the last data point to locate Njs (Silica particles, dp = 231 mm,
B= 2.5%)

Fig. 2. Picture of tank bottom with indication of the solids cone radius (silica
particles, dp =850–1000 mm, B= 5%, N =250 rpm)

then analyzed after the end of the experiment. Cone radius


measurement is performed by comparing the observable cone
radius with a reference length included in all images. The steady
particle cone radius decreases with an increase in rotational
speed, as shown in Fig. 3. The observed trend can therefore be
exploited for reducing the uncertainties on the exact velocity at
which no particles remain steady on the tank bottom, as
illustrated in Fig. 3. The SCRM has the advantage of avoiding
measurement subjectivity and was found to result into excellent
reproducibility. A graph similar to that shown in Fig. 3 was
obtained for all the cases here investigated, so resulting in the
relevant Njs values.
Power measurements were finally performed by assessing the
torque transmitted by the impeller to the tank with the apparatus
described in Grisafi et al. (1998). A sketch of the power
measurement apparatus is conveniently depicted in Fig. 4. In
practice a static frictionless rotating support was used to hold the
tank while a wire and pulleys system allowed measuring (with
the help of a common laboratory scale) the force needed to inhibit Fig. 4. Power measurement apparatus: (A) compressed air inlet; (B) compressed
tank rotation, hence torque and in turn the mechanical power oil tank; (C) granite plane; (D) rotating granite disc; (E) tank; (F) DC motor;
transferred by the impeller to the tank contents. (G) pulley; (H) weight, (I) electronic scale.
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3. Results and discussion between unbaffled and baffled tanks as concerns their particle
suspension capabilities: in top-covered unbaffled systems one
3.1. Just-suspended speed may ideally think to use particles of larger size without sensibly
increasing the impeller speed needed to achieve complete
In Figs. 5a–c, the dependence of Njs on particle concentration suspension conditions. Clearly extrapolation of this result
(B, %) is reported for silica, glass and corundum particles, outside the size range here investigated is risky, as one may
respectively. In the same figures, lines reporting the relevant Njs guess that this behaviour cannot be extended to very large
values predicted by the well-known Zwietering’s correlation particle sizes.
(Zwietering, 1958) for standard baffled vessels (S = 5.2, Nienow, Finally, Njs dependence on relative density difference between
1968) are also reported for comparison purposes (Eq. (1)). particles and liquid (Dr/rL) is reported in Fig. 7, where the Njs
0:45 0:13
values obtained for different solid concentrations and three
Su0:1 d0:2
p ðDr=rÞ B different particle diameters are reported. Also in this figure the
Njs ¼ ð1Þ
D0:85 two lines reporting the Njs values assessed by means of
Only the lowermost (smallest particle size) and the uppermost Zwietering’s correlation for the lowest and the highest solid
(largest particle size) lines are shown. As it can be seen in the top- concentration values (2.5% and 12.5%) are reported for comparison
covered unbaffled vessel the Njs dependence on particle concen- purposes. As it can be seen here, Njs shows a dependence similar to
tration seems to be very similar to that predicted by Zwietering’s that predicted by Zwietering’s correlation, i.e. a dependence of Njs
correlation for baffled tanks (NjspB0.13). Notably most of the data on (Dr/rL) with an exponent of 0.45, with the only exception of
points obtained in the unbaffled tank are below the dotted lines, particles with the smallest size (231 mm) for which a stronger
which implies that most of the Njs values obtained in the dependence seems to apply.
unbaffled tank are significantly smaller than the relevant values Summarizing, the dependences of Njs on particle concentration
in baffled systems. The only exception is the case of the smallest and density difference in the top-covered unbaffled vessel appear
silica particles, for which the two values of Njs are almost identical to be similar to those in baffled vessels, whereas the dependence
(Fig. 5a). on particle diameter appears to be practically negligible.
In Figs. 6a–c the unbaffled Njs values obtained are reported These results are similar to those obtained by Tezura et al.
versus particle size. In the same figures, Zwietering’s predictions (2007) in an unsteadily stirred unbaffled vessel with the
for the lowest and highest particle concentrations (for baffled exception of the Njs dependence on particle size which, in their
tanks) are also reported for comparison purposes. It can be seen system, was similar to Zwietering’s one. The different behaviour
that, as a difference from particle concentration, the dependence observed with the present system concerning Njs dependence on
of Njs on particle size for top-covered unbaffled tanks is much particle size may be explained by considering that in the present
weaker than for baffled tanks (a feature that could have been case the particle suspension mechanism may well be different
noticed also by closer inspection of Fig. 5). In practice, all the and likely to be related to fluid mean velocities near tank bottom
points relevant to different particle mean diameters at the same rather than to velocity turbulent fluctuations, as is instead the
particle concentration are quite well fitted by lines with a case of both baffled tanks and unsteadily stirred unbaffled tanks.
negligible slope. This finding marks an important difference In any case, this finding suggests that top-covered unbaffled tanks

Silica Glass Corundum


1000 1000 1000
Njs

Njs
Njs

Silica particles Glass particles Corundum particles


100 100 100
1 10 1 10 1 10
B [%] B [%]
B [%]

Fig. 5. Dependence of Njs on particle concentration. Symbols: particle size [mm]: m 231; K 275; & 390; B 462; J 550; +925. Lines report Zwietering’s correlation for
standard baffled system (Eq. (1)): dotted line, dp = 231 lm; solid line, dp = 925 lm

1000 1000 1000


Njs
Njs

Njs

Silica particles Glass particles Corundum particles


100 100 100
100 1000 100 1000 100 1000
dp [μm] dp [μm] dp [μm]

Fig. 6. Dependence of Njs on particle size. Symbols: B%: m 2.5; K 5.0; & 7.5; B 10.0; J 12.5. Lines report Zwietering’s correlation for standard baffled system (Eq. (1)):
dotted line B= 2.5%; solid line B= 12.5%.
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may be much better suited than baffled tanks when relatively presence of baffles. In order to quantify this feature, power
large particles need to be suspended in liquid phases. consumption measurements were made, as described in Section 2.
The data collected will be discussed with reference to a
3.2. Power consumption dimensionless power number NP based on an average suspension
density, r
From the smaller Njs values observed in unbaffled versus P
baffled tanks, in conjunction with the typically smaller power NP ¼ ð2Þ
rN3 D5
number values exhibited by the former, one may infer that
mechanical power requirements to achieve fully suspended
conditions are bound to be smaller in the absence than in the r ¼ ð1cÞrliq þ crsol ð3Þ

1000 1000 1000

Njs
Njs

Njs
dp = 231 m dp = 463 m dp = 550 m
100 100 100
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Δρ L
Δρ/ρ Δρ L
Δρ/ρ Δρ/ρL
Δρ

Fig. 7. Dependence of Njs on relative density difference (Dr/rL). Symbols: particle concentration B%: m 2.5; K 5.0; & 7.5; B 10.0; J 12.5. Lines report Zwietering’s
correlation for standard baffled system (Eq. (1)): dotted line B =2.5%; solid line B= 12.5%.

1.6 1.6

1.4 1.4

1.2 1.2

1 1
Np [-]

Np [-]

0.8 0.8

0.6 0.6

0.4 0.4
silica particles, dp = 850-1000μm silica particles, dp = 212-250μm
0.2 0.2

0 0
100 200 300 400 500 600 700 100 200 300 400 500 600 700
N (rpm) N (rpm)

1.6 1.6

1.4 1.4

1.2 1.2

1 1
Np [-]

Np [-]

0.8 0.8

0.6 0.6

0.4 0.4

0.2 corundum particles, dp = 500-600μm 0.2 corundum particles, dp = 212-250μm

0 0
100 200 300 400 500 600 700 100 200 300 400 500 600 700
N (rpm) N (rpm)

Fig. 8. NP versus impeller speed for different particle concentrations B%: J 2.5, * 5, & 7.5, D10,  12.5. Solid triangles indicate the relevant Njs.
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where P is power consumption, c the overall particle volume As a matter of fact, it is well known that for single-phase
fraction, N agitator speed and D the impeller diameter. baffled tanks equipped with Rushton turbines, power number
In Figs. 8a–d the dependence of NP on impeller rotational speed increases with an increase in impeller clearance (Hemrajani and
for silica and corundum particles at different solid loadings and Tatterson, 2004). In the present case the distance of the impeller
two different particle sizes is shown. Similar trends (not reported from tank bottom is significantly modified by the presence of
here for the sake of brevity) were obtained with all other particles unsuspended particles, especially at high solid loading. At low
here investigated. agitation speeds this results in smaller impeller clearances, which,
The trends reported in Fig. 8 show that power number in conjunction with bottom itself to become more streamlined
increases both with solid concentration and particle size, as due to fillets shape, result into smaller NP values. While increasing
already pointed out by previous works (Micheletti et al., 2003; rotational speed, a larger proportion of particles is brought into
Bubbico et al., 1998). suspension, impeller clearance increases, bottom reshaping
In Fig. 8 the Njs values assessed by the cone radius method are becomes less effective, and power number increases. Clearly, all
also reported (solid triangles). It may be worth noting that in this these effects become less important when the amount of particles
case it is not possible to infer Njs from NP versus N curves, introduced in the tank is decreased, i.e. average particle
as a difference from baffled vessels where Njs has been claimed to concentration.
be deducible from the NP versus N graphs (Bohnet and The other parameter involved in the dependence of NP on N is
Niesmak,1980; Raghava Rao et al.,1988; Rewatkar et al., 1991). the effective (two-phase) density seen by the impeller, viz.
As regards curves shape, it may be observed that in the case suspension local density in the proximities of impeller blades.
of the largest particles (Figs. 8a and c) power number curves show This is clearly different from average suspension density. In
a non-monotonic trend versus impeller speed, which suggests particular, at very low impeller speeds (when most particles are
the existence of different factors affecting the NP dependence on lying on tank bottom) this coincides with liquid density. By
N. These factors are likely to be bottom reshaping and suspension increasing the agitation speed some particles get suspended while
local density. others remain at the bottom. Due to the relatively low agitation

1000
212-250μm
850-1000μm
212-250μm
850-1000μm
100
Pjs [W]

10

silica particles

1
1 10 100
B%

1000
212-250μm
500-600μm
212-250μm
500-600μm

100
Pjs [W]

10

corundum particles

1
1 10 100
B%

Fig. 9. Dependence of Pjs on particle concentration for different silica and corundum particles. Solid symbols: experimental data for the unbaffled system; empty symbols:
Pjs for the baffled vessel predicted by Zwietering’s equation and NP = 4.9.
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A. Brucato et al. / Chemical Engineering Science 65 (2010) 3001–3008 3007

speed particles remain in the lower part of the tank, possibly more common baffled vessels, thus making the former a good
leading to a local density (near impeller blades) larger than choice for stirred solid–liquid systems, especially those involving
average suspension density and therefore a particularly high large and/or heavy particles, provided that the liquid mixing time
power number. At still larger agitation speeds the local density is not a limiting factor (as it occurs for many processes).
seen by the impeller is bound to decline because particles are
increasingly well distributed along vessel height as well as moved
radially outwards by increasing centrifugal forces, which leads to Notation
decrease in power numbers.
Clearly, at very low rotational speeds bottom reshaping B solid mass concentration, non-dimensional
prevails and NP values are quite low; while increasing agitation D tank diameter, m
speed the reduced bottom reshaping effect (due to more particle dp particle diameter, mm
getting suspended), together with increase in suspension local H fluid height in the vessel, m
density, brings up an important increase in NP. At still larger N agitation speed, RPM
agitation speeds particle redistribution prevails, the suspension Njs just-suspended agitation speed, RPM
local density reduces and power number declines, thus leading to NP power number, non-dimensional
the relative maxima observable in Figs. 8a and c. As a difference P power consumption, Watt
from baffled tanks, where the final almost homogeneous condi- Pjs just-suspended power, Watt
tions result in a constant NP value (Micheletti et al., 2003; Bohnet S geometry coefficient, non-dimensional
and Niesmak, 1980; Raghava Rao et al., 1988), here the increasing T tank diameter, m
effect of centrifugal forces leads to a continuous decrease in NP,
asymptotically approaching some final NP value. Greek letters
It is worth noting that only part of this behaviour is observable
with 231 mm particles (Figs. 8b and d) as due to their smaller r density, kg/m3
settling velocity they are suspended earlier, and the effects related n kinematics viscosity, m2/s
to bottom reshaping occur only at very low impeller speeds, C overall particle volume fraction
where power consumption assessment is made difficult by
disturbances overwhelming the very small forces to be measured.
It is now interesting to compare Pjs values (i.e. power Acknowledgements
consumption needed to achieve complete suspension conditions)
in baffled and unbaffled systems. The comparison is made in The authors wish to thank Miss Letizia Vitale and Miss Lucia
Figs. 9a and b, where the Pjs values obtained in the investigated Lino for their help in performing many of the experiments
top-covered unbaffled system are reported for silica and presented in this work. This work was carried out under financial
corundum particles with different average diameters and particle support by Ministero dell’Universita e della Ricerca, PRIN-2006
loadings, together with the values for the relevant baffled system, Contract no 2006091953_004.
as predicted on the basis of Zwietering’s correlation and a fixed NP
value of 4.9 (Bates et al., 1963; Micheletti et al., 2003).
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