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Direct Numerical Simulation of Turbulent Channel Flow

Using the Lattice Boltzmann Method

Dustin Bespalko and Andrew Pollard

Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, K7L 3N6, Canada


A BSTRACT is essentially free from truncation errors and thus has

superior accuracy. Also, the solution of the Poisson
In this paper, the Lattice Boltzmann Method (LBM) is
equation for pressure, which is the most computa-
considered as an alternative method for direct numer-
tionally expensive operation in most incompressible
ical simulation (DNS) of turbulent flows. The perfor-
methods, is reduced to a multiplication operation in
mance of the LBM for simulating wall-bounded tur-
spectral space. This makes the spectral method very
bulent flows is verified by performing a DNS of fully-
computationally efficient. The main disadvantage
developed turbulent channel flow and comparing the
of spectral methods is geometric inflexibility. For a
results to the database of [7]. Since the LBM used
simulation with complex geometry it becomes difficult
in this work is confined to a uniform grid, the mini-
to chose appropriate basis functions that satisfy the
mal channel of [6] was simulated instead of the full
boundary conditions.
channel. The minimal channel has smaller dimensions
in the stream-wise and span-wise directions and there-
fore does not accurately simulate the largest structures Finite volume methods have the advantage that they
in the channel. However, the near-wall turbulent struc- can be applied on irregular and unstructured meshes.
tures have been shown to be accurate [6]. The LBM re- For this reason, implementing finite volume methods
sults for the minimal channel show a directional match to solve problems with complex geometries is rela-
for the second order statistics but there are a number of tively simple. In the finite volume method, the NS
discrepancies, most notably a 10% over prediction of equations are integrated over each control volume and
the peak stream-wise velocity fluctuations. This was the convective and diffusive fluxes on the boundaries
initially thought to be a result of poor resolution, but of the control volume are estimated using a discretisa-
further simulations at higher resolution showed no im- tion scheme. The disadvantage of this approach is that
provement. A simulation is currently running in which truncation errors are introduced because the deriva-
the channel has been extended in the stream-wise di- tives in the NS equations are approximated by finite
rection. The statistics from this simulation, while not differences. For a turbulent flow this has the effect of
yet stationary, show an improvement over the minimal reducing the largest wavenumer that can be resolved
channel results. Statistically stationary results for this accurately by the computational grid. This means that
simulation will be presented in the conference presen- the finite volume method must be applied on a finer
tation. mesh than a spectral method to reduce the effect of the
truncation errors. Additionally, the Poisson equation
for pressure is solved in physical space, which is an
1 I NTRODUCTION extremely computationally expensive operation and
Direct numerical simulations (DNS) of turbulent accounts for up to 90% of the total computational time.
flows are generally performed using spectral or finite
volume methods. Spectral methods transform the In this work we consider the lattice Boltzmann method
Navier-Stokes (NS) equations into spectral space in (LBM) as a competitor to spectral and finite volume
order to represent the flow field as a finite set of basis methods for simulations with complex geometries.
functions. Since the derivatives in the NS equations do However, before performing simulations of comples
not need to be approximated in the spectral method, it turbulent flows, we rigorously test the application of
the LBM to turbulent channel flow by comparing with both position and velocity, and the collision integral
existing data available from the spectral simulation of is complex. The dependence of f on velocity is a
[7]. problem because it means that the solution domain
for the single particle distribution is six dimensional.
This means that f must be discretised in both physical
Past work has shown that the LBM is a promising tool
and velocity space. Additionally, if there are a wide
for DNS of turbulent flows; however, the majority of
range of particle velocities in the simulation, the
this work has been focused on free shear flows. This
hydrodynamic moments in equations 2 and 3 become
is because free shear flows can be simulated using
very expensive to compute. However, it can be
periodic and symmetry boundaries, which are straight-
shown that only a small set of particle velocities are
forward to implement in the LBM. Additionally, free
necessary for the Boltzmann equation to recover the
shear flows can be implemented with a spectral code
Navier-Stokes equations in the macroscopic limit. For
for the purpose of benchmarking the performance of
this reason, the Boltzmann equation can be simplified
the LBM. For the most part, detailed analysis, and
by restricting the particles to travel on a highly sym-
thus verification of, wall bounded turbulent flows
metric lattice. A further simplification can be made by
has been avoided. There are a few simulations of
replacing the collision integral with a relaxation type
turbulent channel flow in the literature but they are
model in which the current single particle distribution
either under-resolved [3] when compared to the
is relaxed towards its local equilibrium value. This is
standard channel flow database, or do not report data
called the BGK approximation, which is named for
for higher-order statistics [1].
Bhatnagar, Gross, and Krook [2].

Making the above simplifications yields the discrete

2 T HE L ATTICE B OLTZMANN Boltzmann equation with the BGK approximation:
The lattice Boltzmann method is a discrete particle ∂ fi (eq)
+ ci · ∇ fi = ω( fi − fi ) (4)
method based on kinetic theory. Instead of solving ∂t
for hydrodynamic variables (such as mass, momen-
tum, and energy), the working variable in the LBM (eq)
where ω is the relaxation parameter and fi is the
is the single particle distribution f (x, c,t). The single
local equilibrium value for fi . The discrete Boltzmann
particle distribution is a probability distribution func-
equation is a set of partial differential equations; one
tion that represents the expected mass density of par-
for each discrete velocity ci in the model. Since each
ticles located at position x and time t moving with a
fi is only a function of x and t these equations can be
velocity c. The governing equation for the single par-
discretised in space and time using a finite difference
ticle distribution is the Boltzmann equation [4]:
method. For the special case where ∆x = c∆t the lattice
Boltzmann equation is obtained.
+ c · ∇ f = Q( f , f ) (1)
where Q( f , f ) is the collision integral, which is re- fi (x + ci∆t,t + ∆t) − fi(x,t) = ω( fi − fi ) (5)
sponsible for modelling the particle interactions. Once
the single particle distribution is known, the corre-
sponding hydrodynamic quantities can be determined This is the evolution equation used in the lattice Boltz-
by evaluating the velocity moments of f . For exam- mann method. The finite difference approximations
ple, the density and momentum can be calculated as for the spatial and temporal derivatives are only first
follows: order accurate, but it can be shown that the LBM is
second order if the viscosity is computed as follows
Z [9]:
ρ(x,t) = f (x, c,t)dc (2)
1 1 1
Z ν= − (6)
ρuα (x,t) = cα · f (x, c,t)dc (3) 3 ω 2

The Boltzmann equation is difficult to solve for two Once the fi ’s are known, the hydrodynamic quantities
reasons: the single particle distribution is a function of can be computed by the following summations:
W7−18 = 1/36
ρ(x,t) = ∑ fi (x,t) (7) (10)

N−1 The lattice Boltzmann equation can be separated into

ρuα (x,t) = ∑ ciα · fi (x,t) (8) an advection and collision step. In the collision step,
i=0 the single particle distributions are relaxed towards
their local equilibrium values by an amount dictated
The other two components of an LBM model are the
by the relaxation rate ω. Next, the new particle
lattice and the equilibrium distribution. In the simula-
distributions are streamed to their neighbouring lattice
tions used in this work, the D3Q19 lattice was used.
sites in the advection step. Using a multi-scale
This lattice has three dimensions, and 19 discrete ve-
expansion, the LBM can be shown to be equivalent
locities. The D3Q19 lattice velocities are shown in
to the incompressible Navier-Stokes equations in the
graphical form in figure 1.
low-Mach number limit.

The advantages of the LBM are the following: the

advection process is linear; the pressure is calculated
using an equation of state, eliminating the need for
pressure velocity coupling; it is isotropic up to second
order, reducing the effect of grid orientation; and it is
simple to code for massive parallelisation.

One major drawback of the LBM is that currently
it can only be used with a uniform grid. This
means that the grid resolution must be the same in
all three coordinate directions. In a simulation of
Figure 1: D3Q19 lattice velocities.
turbulent channel flow the grid resolution required in
The equilibrium distribution for the LBM is based on the wall-normal direction is much higher than that
the Maxwell distribution, which is the equilibrium dis- needed in the stream-wise and span-wise directions.
tribution for the Boltzmann equation. To generate the Ideally, a stretched grid would be implemented to
LBM equilibrium distribution function, a low-Mach exploit this feature to make the simulation more
number assumption is made. This assumption allows computationally efficient. Since this is currently not
the Maxwell distribution to be expanded as a Taylor possible with the LBM, the computational cost of
series about zero velocity. The terms up to second or- simulating a channel flow using the LBM is much
der in u are retained to give: greater than that of a simulation using a spectral
method. However, turbulent channel flow is an
ideal simulation to run in order to benchmark the
accuracy of the LBM for wall bounded turbulent flows.
3(ci · u) 9(ci · u)2 3u2
fi = Wi ρ 1 + + − (9)
c2 2c4 2c2
In this work, the minimal flow unit was simulated
where the constants Wi are the quadrature coefficients instead of the channel of [7] to reduce the computa-
(eq) tional time. The minimal flow unit restricts the size
that ensure that the moments of fi corresponding to
of the channel in both the stream-wise and span-wise
the conserved quantities are identical to the moments
directions. Due to its smaller size, the minimal
of fi . The values of these coefficients for the D3Q19
channel is not large enough to accommodate all of the
lattice are:
largest scales in the channel, and thus there are errors
induced by enforcing periodic boundaries. However,
[6] showed that, provided the channel is larger than
W0 = 1/3 a critical size, the minimal channel can sustain a
W1−6 = 1/18 turbulent flow and the near-wall turbulence statistics
agree well with the data from the full channel. By B7−18 = 1/12
simulating the minimal channel, the LBM can be (12)
implemented with a uniform grid and the simulation
can be performed in a reasonable amount of time.
The LBM code has been parallelised using MPI as
the message passing API. The code was run on a
The Reynolds number, based on the mean center- SUN Fire 15K shared-memory machine using 64
line velocity and the channel half-width was 3300. processors. The simulation completed 12 million time
The dimensions of the simulation domain were steps, corresponding to approximately 8000 large
2δ × 0.3πδ × πδ for the wall-normal, span-wise, and eddy turn-over times.
stream-wise directions respectively. The domain was
meshed with a uniform grid with 181 × 86 × 282
nodes. This corresponds to a cell size of y+ = 2,
which is approximately equal to the Kolmogorov 4 R ESULTS
length scale. The probability density values for the During the simulation, all of the relevant time averaged
model were initialised to their equilibrium values quantities needed to compute turbulence statistics up
for Poiseuille flow. In order to induce turbulence, a to second order were recorded. These included:
random noise was applied directly to the populations
for a short time using a linear congruential random
number generator. • Density (ρ)

• Density squared (ρ2 )

The wall boundaries were implemented using the
bounce-back boundary condition. In this method, the • Velocity (u, v, w).
particle distributions that stream to a boundary node
• Velocity squared (u2 , v2 , w2 ).
during the streaming step are simply reversed. If there
is no collision step performed at the boundary, this • Reynolds shear stresses per unit mass uv, vw, uw.
condition results in a wall located approximately half-
way between the boundary node and its neighbouring • Viscous shear stresses τxy , τyz , τxz
fluid node. The bounce-back boundary condition is
nominally first order accurate, but [5] showed that it In order to scale the statistics, the average wall shear
improves to second order when the flow is aligned stress was calculated by extrapolation. This value was
with one of the lattice directions. then used to calculate the friction velocity (uτ ) and the
viscous length scale (δν ).
The flow in the channel was driven using a body force,
and periodic boundaries were used in the stream-wise The mean velocity profile for the channel is shown in
and span-wise directions. A body force was used in Figure 2. The mean velocity is scaled by uτ and the
favour of a pressure gradient in order to minimise the distance from the wall is scaled by δν . The points
effect of compressibility. The LBM is equivalent to in the figure represent the data from both sides of the
solving the compressible NS equations with a constant channel simulated using the LBM. The solid line is the
temperature and sound speed. Therefore, if a pressure data from the spectral simulation of Kim, Moin, and
gradient was established across the channel, it would Moser [7]. As this figure shows, the mean velocity
lead to a corresponding density gradient as well. The profile produced by the LBM simulation matches the
body force is implemented by adjusting the particle database to within approximately 1%. Figure 3 shows
distributions at each lattice site after the collision pro- a comparison of the mean pressure profile for the LBM
cess. This was done using the following equation: simulation and the channel flow database. The pres-
sure in the LBM simulation is computed from the den-
fi = fi + Bi ρ(ci · g) (11) sity using the ideal gas law, which for the LBM is:

where g is the body force vector and the weighting fac- p= (13)
tors Bi are equal to: 3
The pressure is scaled using the mean wall shear stress
and plotted relative to the pressure on the wall. The
B1−6 = 1/6 LBM simulation is within approximately 10% of the
20 run with a resolution of 1.5 wall units that showed no
appreciable change.



5 2.0

u′ rms

1.0 10.0 100.0 1.0
y+ 0.5
Figure 2: LBM results for the mean velocity profile:
1.0 10.0 100.0
◦ lower wall, + upper wall, — Kim, Moser, Moin
(1987) [7] y

Figure 4: LBM results for the stream-wise RMS veloc-

ity fluctuations: ◦ lower wall, + upper wall, — Kim,
−0.2 Moser, Moin (1987) [7]



−0.8 1.0
v′ rms

1.0 10.0 100.0 0.5

Figure 3: LBM results for the mean pressure profile: 0.0

◦ lower wall, + upper wall, — Kim, Moser, Moin 1.0 10.0 100.0
(1987) [7] y +

results from [7]. Figure 5: LBM results for the wall-normal RMS veloc-
ity fluctuations: ◦ lower wall, + upper wall, — Kim,
Moser, Moin (1987) [7]
The root-mean-square velocity fluctuations in the
stream-wise, wall-normal, and span-wise directions
Currently, a simulation is running in which the length
are shown in figures 4 - 6. These figures show a
of the channel has been extended in the stream-wise
good match for the wall-normal velocity fluctuations,
direction. The new dimensions of this channel
but significant discrepancies in the stream-wise and
are 2δ × δ × 16δ, and the resolution in each of the
span-wise directions. The most significant difference
directions is 2 wall units. This channel is more than
between the two simulations is an over prediction of
four times longer than the minimal channel in the
the stream-wise velocity fluctuations by over 10%
stream-wise directions, and thus uses approximately
at the peak value. Initially, this discrepancy was
four times the number of lattice sites.
explained as a resolution problem because it was not
observed in the minimal channel simulation of [6] and
an over prediction of the peak stream-wise velocity Given the fact that this simulation contains roughly
fluctuations has been shown by [8] to be caused by four times as many computational nodes, it theoreti-
insufficient resolution. However, a simulation was cally should take four times longer to run. However,
1.5 time averaged over a much larger interval in order for
the statistics to become stationary.

1.0 The simulation of the extended channel has currently

completed 650, 000 iterations, which corresponds to
w′ rms

approximately 400 large eddy turn-over times. The

0.5 statistics for this simulation are not yet stationary, but
they already show an improvement for the stream-wise
and span-wise velocity fluctuations (figures 8 and 9).
This simulation will be continued and statistically
0.0 stationary results will be presented in the conference
1.0 10.0 100.0

Figure 6: LBM results for the span-wise RMS veloc-

ity fluctuations: ◦ lower wall, + upper wall, — Kim, 3
Moser, Moin (1987) [7] 2.5

u′ rms
0.8 +
u ′ v′

0.4 0
1.0 10.0 100.0
0.2 +
0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 Figure 8: LBM results for the stream-wise RMS ve-
locity fluctuations (long channel simulation): ◦ lower
y+ wall, + upper wall, — Kim, Moser, Moin (1987) [7]

Figure 7: LBM results for the Reynolds shear stress:

◦ lower wall, + upper wall, — Kim, Moser, Moin
(1987) [7] 1.5
in practice the statistics for this simulation converge
faster than those from the minimal channel simulation. 1
w′ rms

This is because of the existence of stable states in 0.75


the minimal channel in which turbulent flow exists

near only one wall. In this state the flow on the 0.5
non-turbulent wall is not steady, but has a small
temporal variation and is nearly two-dimensional [6]. 0.25
The turbulence periodically shifts from one wall to 0
the other, with a brief interval in between in which 1.0 10.0 100.0
the flow on both walls is turbulent. In the minimal +
channel simulation of [6] this periodic transition was
shown to have only a small effect on the low order
statistics. However, due to the fact that switching of Figure 9: LBM results for the span-wise RMS velocity
the turbulence from one wall to the other occurs over fluctuations (long channel simulation): ◦ lower wall,
a long characteristic time (approximately 1000 large + upper wall, — Kim, Moser, Moin (1987) [7]
eddy turn-over times), the minimal channel must be
5 C ONCLUSIONS AND F UTURE W ORK Review E, 55(6):6985–6988, June 1997.
In this work fully developed turbulent channel flow [2] P. Bhatnagar, E. Gross, and M. Krook. A model
was simulated with the LBM in order to benchmark for collision processes in gases. I. small amplitude
its accuracy when simulating wall bounded turbulent processes in charged and neutral one-component
flows. The minimal channel was originally simulated systems. Physical Review, 94(3):511–525, 1954.
in order to reduce computational time. This was a
concern due to the fact that the LBM is currently [3] J. Eggels. Direct and large-eddy simulation of
restricted to a uniform grid, and thus the resolution turbulent fluid flow using the lattice-Boltzmann
could not be decreased in the stream-wise and span- scheme. International Journal of Heat and Fluid
wise directions. The second order statistics for this Flow, 17(3):307–323, 1996.
simulation showed a directional match with the spec-
[4] S. Harris. An Introduction to the Theory of the
tral simulation of [7]. However, there were a number
Boltzmann Equation. Dover Publications Inc.,
of discrepancies between the two simulations, most
notably the LBM over predicted the peak stream-wise
velocity fluctuations by over 10%. [5] X. He, Q. Zou, L.-S. Luo, and M. Dembo. An-
alytic solutions of simple flows and analysis of
A new simulation is currently running in which the nonslip boundary conditions for the lattice Boltz-
channel has been extended by four times in the stream- mann BGK model. Journal of Statistical Physics,
wise direction. The results from this simulation, while 87:115–136, 1997.
not yet statistically stationary, show a much more [6] J. Jiméniz and P. Moin. The minimal flow unit in
promising match with the channel flow database. The near-wall turbulence. Journal of Fluid Mechanics,
statistically stationary results for this simulation will 225:213–240, 1991.
be presented in the conference presentation.
[7] J. Kim, P. Moin, and R. Moser. Turbulence
statistics in fully developed channel flow at low
Reynolds number. Journal of Fluid Mechanics,
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 177:133–166, 1987.
The authors would like to thank the Natural Science [8] A. G. Kravchenko and P. Moin. On the effect of
and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) for fi- numerical errors in large eddy simulations of tur-
nancial support of this project, and the High Perfor- bulent flows. Journal of Computational Physics,
mance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL) for 131:310–322, 1997.
the use of their computational resources.
[9] D. A. Wolf-Gladrow. Lattice-Gas Cellular Au-
tomata and Lattice Boltzmann Models. Lecture
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