Computational fluid dynamics for design and optimization of tubular low-density polyethylene reactors

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Kolhapure, Nitin
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Rodney O. Fox
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Chemical and Biological Engineering

The function of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering has been to prepare students for the study and application of chemistry in industry. This focus has included preparation for employment in various industries as well as the development, design, and operation of equipment and processes within industry.Through the CBE Department, Iowa State University is nationally recognized for its initiatives in bioinformatics, biomaterials, bioproducts, metabolic/tissue engineering, multiphase computational fluid dynamics, advanced polymeric materials and nanostructured materials.

The Department of Chemical Engineering was founded in 1913 under the Department of Physics and Illuminating Engineering. From 1915 to 1931 it was jointly administered by the Divisions of Industrial Science and Engineering, and from 1931 onward it has been under the Division/College of Engineering. In 1928 it merged with Mining Engineering, and from 1973–1979 it merged with Nuclear Engineering. It became Chemical and Biological Engineering in 2005.

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1913 - present

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  • Department of Chemical Engineering (1913–1928)
  • Department of Chemical and Mining Engineering (1928–1957)
  • Department of Chemical Engineering (1957–1973, 1979–2005)
    • Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (2005–present)

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Polymer reactor models often assume that the reactants are mixed rapidly and thus the concentrations can be considered to be uniform at small scales. However, for fast reactions or for viscous systems, poor mixing of chemical species significantly affects the reactor performance while adversely affecting product quality. The purpose of this research is to formulate a generalized algorithm based on state-of-the-art computational fluid dynamics (CFD) techniques such as full or presumed probability density function (PDF) methods to better understand the role of micromixing in mixing-sensitive chemical processes. The impressive capabilities of the algorithm are investigated using an industrial test-case of tubular low-density polyethylene (LDPE) reactors. The precise control and optimization of these reactors are of primary industrial concern due to tight coupling between fluid dynamics and complex LDPE chemistry under extreme operating conditions. CFD simulations are carried out by combining the CFD model and detailed LDPE chemistry into a single FORTRAN code as well as into a commercial CFD software--Fluent(c). The technique of in situ adaptive tabulation enables the computationally efficient inclusion of the stiff and non-linear LDPE chemistry. Results include temperature profiles, various species profiles and prediction of polymer quality with and without chain transfer mechanisms under various inlet and operating conditions, along with comparisons against pilot-plant scale data and/or comparison of various CFD techniques for accurate and efficient predictions of micromixing effects. Interesting features such as a bimodal temperature distribution and local hot-spots as well as global decomposition after an induction time or due to pulsating initiator feed are also observed under certain conditions using the full PDF simulations near critical points where instabilities occur. Considering the advantages of the two CFD methods, efforts are also directed towards efficient combination of the two techniques in order to obtain reactor stability plots and catalyst efficiency profiles, which are extremely helpful in operational decisions as well as design of control strategies. Thus the study not only illustrates the importance of mixing effects on LDPE polymerization in tubular reactors, but also yields insight into choosing appropriate operating conditions for maximizing catalyst efficiency while controlling reactor dynamics and product quality in plant-scale tubular LDPE reactors.

Mon Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2001