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10 questions to ask yourself when tackling your first (or a new) Multiphase CFD project

By virtue of the many physical processes we are often attempting to simulate in a virtual
environment, CFD can be a complex beast. To accurately account for all real-world behaviour, the
CFD engineer must consider the applicability of a large number of physical effects, including complex
turbulence, compressibility, various modes of heat transfer and, last but certainly not least, the
interaction of multiple phases comprising liquid, gaseous and solid components.

Even if you have mastered all of your geometry and meshing requirements, and undertaken many
years of single-phase CFD simulations, it can still be a daunting task when you are asked to tackle
your first multiphase CFD problem. Before you begin, we recommend that you ask yourself the

[1] For each phase in your system (gas/liquid/solid), make a decision on whether it should be
considered as a continuous phase (which assumes all regions of this particular material are
connected) or as a discrete phase that is dispersed throughout the domain (e.g. droplets, particles or

[2] For each continuous phase, decide whether the flow is laminar or turbulent by evaluating a
characteristic Reynolds number for your problem.

[3] Determine the Stokes number for each dispersed component and decide if it will follow the
continuous flow closely (smaller Stokes numbers, typically < 0.01) or move largely independently of it
(larger Stokes numbers, typically >1).

[4] For each dispersed phase, based on your understanding of the real physics, decide whether it is
necessary to model a wide range of sizes (of droplets/particles), or whether your modelling goals can
be achieved by modelling the system with a single size or just a few representative size classes.

[5] Decide whether assessing changes to the characteristic size of the dispersed phase (e.g.
increasing/decreasing droplet or bubble diameter) will be important for your CFD modelling goals.

[6] If so, assess the mechanism that is causing this breakup or coalescence. The Weber number
describes the ratio of inertial forces to surface tension forces acting on the droplet, and can be used
to help you decide the dominant breakup mechanism. Typically the droplet will be stable for Weber
Numbers less than 6.

[7] Review whether gravitational effects are important. The Bond number helps you assess this as it
describes the ratio of gravitational forces to surface tension forces.

[8] Review whether surface tension effects are important. Check your Capillary number, which is the
ratio of viscous forces to surface tension forces. The appropriate ranges where surface tension can
be neglected can be heavily problem dependent, so please contact us if you require for more
information on this area.
[9] How do you need to present your CFD results? Will it suffice to report an average value of some
key variables (such as the average velocity or temperature in particular regions) or do you need to
have more detailed reports on the history of a particular dispersed entity? For example, if you want
to model the drying of a milk droplet in a spray dryer, or combustion of a coal particle, the history of
key variables along the particle trajectory are important quantities to capture in your CFD results.

[10] Consider how large the volume fraction of each particular dispersed phase can become within
your domain of interest? If the maximum volume fraction is still less than about 5%, then often the
interactions between particles will be negligible. Conversely, if the volume fraction is likely to
approach the packing limit (typically around 60% but varies according to particle type/shape), then
additional physical models can be activated to prevent over-packing.

Using carefully considered responses to the above questions, you will now have characterised your
multiphase system and it is possible to move to the next step: How to select the most appropriate
multiphase modelling approach for your multiphase CFD simulation (which is covered in our next
post in this series)...

As we discussed in our previous post, the first step when tackling a multiphase CFD problem is to
identify the key characteristics of your physical system. Once you've done this (using our checklist if
you are still new to multiphase CFD), you can begin to make informed decisions on what multiphase
modelling approaches to use.

We've compiled the following guidelines based on the decades of experience that LEAP has
developed while helping customers in Australia and New Zealand to solve multiphase CFD problems,
particularly companies and researchers in the minerals, process and energy industries:

[1] If your problem involves a distinct free surface between two fluids (typically liquids), then the
"Free surface" model in CFX or "Volume of Fluid / VOF" model in Fluent should be selected. Both of
these methods allow an interface to be solved in steady-state (if it achieves an equilibrium state) or
tracked over time in a transient simulation.

[2] If your system involves a dilute system of droplets or particles (maximum volume fractions less
that ~5%) and you need to track typical trajectories to follow physical processes (such as drying,
evaporation, combustion etc.), then you need to use a Lagrangian approach: this is termed the
Discrete Particle Model (DPM) in Fluent & the Particle Transport model in CFX. Both codes have an
extensive range of in-built models related to the particle physics, so we encourage you to review
these options in the manual before you start and contact LEAP if you have specific questions.
[3] If your Stokes number is small, then the particles will quickly reach equilibrium with the fluid flow
and travel at their terminal velocity. In this case, the Mixture model in Fluent or the Algebraic Slip
Model (ASM) in CFX are good choices for a balance of accuracy and speed. The reason that
these models greatly reduce computational time is that they only solve a single momentum equation
and the other velocities are obtained by calculating the particle slip velocity.

[4] If your Stokes number is larger, then an Eulerian model will be needed. An Eulerian multiphase
model will solve a separate velocity field for each phase, which is the most general approach and
allows complete freedom as to the behaviour of each phase within your domain.

[5] If you have solid particles present, then you will need to understand the maximum packing
density for your system (incorporating particle shape and size distribution), and then decide how you
are going to enforce it. If the packing limit of your particles is not likely to be reached (or is
unimportant to your simulation), then the Eulerian Granular models can be used which are based on
solids pressure models and kinetic theory. If you want to track particle trajectories more accurately
including mechanistic physics of the solids build-up (and account for complex interactions/collisions
between particles), we recommend that you use the Dense Discrete Particle (DDPM) model in ANSYS
Fluent and combine it with the Discrete Element Model (DEM). This approach allows you to respect
the maximum packing limit (as it considers the voidage of the Lagrangian model within the Eulerian
phase) and account for the particle-particle interactions/collisions.
[6] In all of these approaches, you will need to choose the constitutive physics models for drag, lift,
turbulent dispersion etc. that are appropriate for your problem. The User Guides for CFX and Fluent
contain a lot of useful information to help in this process. Often it is a good strategy to start with the
simple models, and incrementally activate models that incorporate more physics so that you can
understand the effect they have on the accuracy of your solution.

[7] Transient or steady-state? Even though you may be looking for a steady-state solution,
multiphase flows are often complex and in many cases we find that you can only approach a pseudo-
steady-state result using a transient simulation technique. Keep this in mind and if you find that
convergence to a steady-state solution is proving difficult, approach it via a transient simulation.

[8] If you decided that gravity was important, make sure you include it in your simulation. You will
need to specify a reference density, which should be that of the lightest phase. The inclusion of
gravity will also sets some conditions on how you specify your boundary conditions. If you have a
separated flow leaving a pipe which is orthogonal to the gravity vector, the pressure is not constant
(so ideally you would account for the hydrostatic pressure component). A common workaround is to
place a 90 degree elbow downstream of the outlet which allows you to set a constant average
pressure boundary condition without affecting the results in the key region of interest.
[9] It is important to give physically consistent initial conditions. If you have a fluid mixture present,
then calculate the pressure so that you can set a consistent pressure field that includes the remaining
hydrostatic component after the reference density is subtracted.

[10] If you are using the DPM / Lagrangian model, start solving your model initially with a small mass
flow rate and a few hundred trajectories so that you can check everything is set up correctly. Doing
this sanity check early on is much more efficient than waiting for the full simulation to complete only
to find out there was a simple setup error.

We hope that these guidelines are enough to get started with your first multiphase CFD simulations.

ooking back at our previous blog series on Multiphase Flow (Parts 1 and 2), it is interesting to see
what has changed in the world of multiphase flow modelling. In those blogs, we pointed out the
need to understand the physics of the system that you are modelling and that remains the number
one priority today. Key points of the blog were the identification of the flow regime and interaction
between the different phases, particularly how the velocity of one phase was related to that of the
others. However, once you have done this, there are a number of new developments that will help
you address a wider range of multiphase flows and do this much more effectively. Here are some key
developments that have occurred in recent releases of ANSYS (particularly 16.0 to 16.2) that will
assist you in this task:

1) As we discussed previously, the Volume of Fluid (VOF) approach allows you to solve free surface
problems and maintain a sharp interface. However, what happens if additionally there are some
regions of the flowfield where droplets are present, as would happen in an oil water separator? In
ANSYS 16, you can now choose whether you want a sharp interface, sharp in some regions and some
disperse flow or all disperse flow. The code then sets up all the numerical schemes automatically for
Refactored GUI panel showing the options for the type of interfaces to be captured (in red box). The
Green button enables the anti-diffusion model.

2) When you do have a sharp free surface interface, you want it to be captured sharply even on a
relatively coarse mesh. This can now be achieved by enabling an anti-diffusion scheme that adds just
enough negative diffusion to sharpen up the interface without causing numerical problems. It is
helping produce much better free surface flows and has been demonstrated by us to massively
reduce the artificial ventilation that occurs under ship hulls at high Froude numbers, as shown in the
pictures below.

Water volume fraction on the wetted surface of a hull for a Froude number of 1.55 showing the
elimination of the artificial air entrainment when the anti-diffusion term is activated.

3) In the previous blog series, we talked about knowing the morphology or flow regime before
suitable models can be chosen. This has been a requirement in multiphase modelling until recently,
making it hard to model the transition from say slug flow to annular flow in a two-phase oil-water
mixture. This is because interfacial area and interphase drag need to be calculated differently in the
different flow regimes. Experienced users have been able to work around this by implementing their
own models, but the process has a steep learning curve. Starting at 16 and continuing in 17, this is
being done automatically for the user making the process simpler and much less time consuming to
setup. We encourage you to attend the 11th International Conference on CFD in the Minerals and
Process Industries organised by CSIRO on 7-9 December, 2015 and listen to the keynote presentation
by Dr. Mohan Srinivasa of ANSYS to learn more about these exciting developments.

A mixture of gas and liquid enters at the left hand boundary and as it flows along the pipe the regime
changes from bubbly to slug flow, with this transition being captured automatically.
4) We discussed previously that many multiphase flows are inherently unsteady in nature. Take the
example of a bubble column, in which gas is bubbled through a liquid to cause mixing and high mass
transfer rates from the gas to the liquid. At any instant, the flow appears completely random but
time-averaged experimental data will show a well-defined flow pattern. To understand this system
using CFD, transient runs must be made that are long enough to capture this pattern. The simulation
times are potentially huge but the recent introduction of a Non-Iterative (NITA) multiphase solver at
V16 is reducing these times by more than an order of magnitude. Prof. David Fletcher (University of
Sydney and LEAP Australia) will present a detailed case study at the same conference, so we
encourage you to come along and learn how this can save you significant computational time for
these classes of problems.

Air volume fraction plot showing the complicated pattern of bubbly flow in the column and the sharp
free surface as the bubbles disengage and exit the vessel.

5) ANSYS has always prided itself in its multiphase physics capabilities and seeks to extend these
where needed. Multiphase flow through a porous medium is such an example, where macroscopic
equations govern the flow yet microscopic behaviour determines the details of the drag and phase
holdup. At ANSYS 16, new models have been introduced to provide well-established constitutive laws
for relative permeability and capillary pressure, making the solution of such problems possible. A
typical application is simulating the flow through a drill hole taking into account the local flow in the
surrounding rock.

Plots showing the oil and water volume fractions in the vicinity of a well bore at a given instance in a
transient simulation.

There have been many more developments and enhancement in the multiphase area, some of which
are beta features in ANSYS 16 which are becoming fully released features at ANSYS 17.