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Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 16 (2003) 341347

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Evaluation of a CFD porous model for calculating ventilation in
explosion hazard assessments
C.E. Fothergill
ab
, S. Chynoweth
a
, P. Roberts
a,
, A. Packwood
b
a
Shell Global Solutions, P.O. Box 1, Chester, CH1 3SH, UK
b
Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, University of Surrey, GU2 7XH, UK
Abstract
In the past, gas explosion assessment relied on worst case scenarios. A more realistic approach is to look at the probability of
explosions and their likely severity. The most exible way of investigating many different scenarios is to estimate a ventilation
ow, feed this into a ammable volume calculation and then calculate the explosion severity. The procedure allows many parameters
to be varied efciently. A Computational Fluid Dynamics porous model is evaluated for modelling the ventilation ow through
congested regions, including a new method that has been developed to derive the resistance. Comparison with velocity measurements
from a large scale model of an offshore module showed that overall the CFD model performs very well, especially considering
that the homogenous porosity block does not model any of the internal obstructions and therefore would not predict any local ow
effects. This gives condence that the overall ow pattern is sufciently close to the local ow patterns, to be used in explosion
assessments. The porous approximation in CFX is found to underpredict the turbulence intensity in the obstacle array compared to
the explosion model EXSIM. Improving the turbulence prediction in the porous model would be valuable, so a relatively simple
method of increasing the turbulence in porous regions is proposed. The CFD model will provide the non-uniform natural ventilation
owelds of complex regions for future explosion assessments at a hierarchy of levels.
2003 Shell Research Ltd. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: CFD; Porous model; Explosion assessment
1. Introduction
In the past, gas explosion assessment relied on worst
case scenarios. A more realistic approach is to look at
the probability of explosions and their likely severity.
For instance, a gas release may not result in a uniform
ammable mixture throughout the module; and the
pressures created from a worst case explosion arising
from the ignition of a stoichiometric gas cloud extending
through the entire module have been proven to be higher
than those created by a realistic gas cloud (Johnson,
Cleaver, Puttock, and Van Wingerden, 2002).
The most exible way of investigating many different
scenarios is to estimate a ventilation ow, feed this into
a ammable volume calculation and then calculate the

Corresponding author. Tel.: +44-151-373-5893; fax: +44-151-


373-5845.
E-mail address: pete.t.roberts@shell.com (P. Roberts).
0950-4230/03/$ - see front matter 2003 Shell Research Ltd. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/S0950-4230(02)00113-4
explosion severity (Fig. 1). The procedure allows many
parameters to be varied efciently, unlike a single step
process where a CFD model could calculate the
explosion severity of one individual scenario directly,
but each variation of the input parameters would involve
another computationally expensive simulation. A new
method of modelling the ventilation ow through con-
gested regions is evaluated here. This involves rep-
resenting a congested region as a volume of homogenous
porosity in the CFX-4 CFD model. The method chosen
to parameterise the porous region is described and
assessed here. The results of the porous simulations are
validated against full scale experimental measurements
and another CFD code, EXSIM
(http://www.exsim.com).
2. Background
Three main methods are currently available for the
rapid calculation of ventilation ow; zone models, inte-
342 C.E. Fothergill et al. / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 16 (2003) 341347
Fig. 1. Stages of an explosion calculation.
gral models and empirical approximations. These tech-
niques are appropriate where the ow is expected to be
spatially uniform (Grosso, 1992), but in more complex
regions the ow eld can contain signicant areas of
non-uniformity such as recirculation regions and these
cases need to be calculated using CFD. The large-scale
ow circulations and patterns within the module can be
modelled by representing the congestion in the module
as a volume of homogenous porosity and resistance. This
approximation is used instead of fully resolving the
obstacles because:
It is computationally more efcient, allowing a large
number of connement arrangements under a range
of windspeeds to be modelled.
The results need to be applicable to any module, so
one single internal arrangement would not be appro-
priate as it would create specic ow patterns that
would not be appropriate input for calculating am-
mable volumes.
The details of the ow inside the module are not
required by simpler ammable volume models that
use the ventilation velocity.
The evaluation of this method will be valuable for
many applications.
Research concerning wakes behind surface mounted
two-dimensional porous obstacles (Shiau, 2000; Lee &
Kim, 1999; Raju, Garde, Singh SK & Singh N, 1988)
has allowed the basic features of the perturbed ow to
be reasonably well understood. The large scale general
ow patterns inside a free-standing porous region in
atmospheric ow has rarely been considered, the closest
examples being investigations into groups of buildings
(Macdonald, 2000).
The ammable volume is calculated using a method
suitable to the likely complexity of the problem. Simple
correlations can be used to arrive at the ammable vol-
ume (Cleaver & Britter, 2001) if a characteristic venti-
lation velocity is known. A more accurate method
(Chynoweth, 2001) uses random walk theory. Many dif-
ferent release scenarios can be calculated with one single
ow eld as the basis, while the release location, orien-
tation, ow rate and composition are all varied. The
efciency of the technique means that many thousands
of simulations can be performed in order to construct a
statistically sound picture of the probable ammable gas
clouds. The explosion models use the ammable volume
input, and range from simple empirical methods
(Puttock, 1995) through phenomenological models
(Puttock et al., 1998) to CFD models (Saeter, 1998). The
model complexity required is case dependent and in
many situations it is appropriate to apply more than
one model.
3. Porous model in CFD
Geometry is represented as a porous region in CFX
using the Porosity Distributed Resistance (PDR) formu-
lation of the governing equations. The model is a gener-
alisation of the Navier-Stokes equations for uid ow
and of Darcys law commonly used for ows in porous
regions (Miguel, van de Braak, Silva, & Bot, 2001). This
method was rst proposed by Patankar and Spalding
(1974). In the PDR method, the presence of obstructions
modies the governing equations in two ways. Firstly,
the volume of the obstruction is represented in the con-
trol volume in such a way that only the non-blocked
areas are available for uid ow. Secondly, obstacles
give additional ow resistance which must be modelled.
The modied Navier-Stokes momentum equation is
written as
343 C.E. Fothergill et al. / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 16 (2003) 341347

t
(brU
i
)

x
j
(b
i
rU
j
U
i
)

x
j
(b
i
s
ij
) b
p
x
i
R
i
where U
i
is the mean velocity vector in the i-direction,
b is the volume porosity, b
i
is the area porosity in the i
direction, and
R
i
b(R
C
i
R
F
i
|U
i
|)U
i
R
Cx
(kgs
-1
/m
-3
) is the resistance constant in the x-direc-
tion and R
Fx
(kg/m
4
) is the speed resistance factor in the
x-direction. The linear resistance term R
Cx
can be set to
zero due to the highly turbulent nature of the ow.
The porous approximation has been used to model
two-dimensional porous fences (Takahashi, Du, Wu,
Maki & Kawashima, 1998). Packwood (2000) used a
resistance based on empirical data from Hoerner (1965)
and tested the performance of a modied k- and the
Reynolds stress model for ow downstream of fences.
Overall the much simpler, modied k- model worked
surprisingly well. The three-dimensional problem has
been largely neglected, although Speirs (1997) experi-
mental study showed that the main ow features were
common to both the two and three-dimensional cases.
Another study of 3D volumes compared CFD PDR
results to experiments (Hoang, Verboven, De Baerde-
maeker & Nicola , 2000) and found 26% error in the
CFD simulations, but this was thought to be mostly due
to mesh quality.
Despite these studies, methods for representing com-
plicated geometries as porous regions in CFD are not
well established. The value for resistance depends on
both the shapes of the blockages within a module and
the distribution of large volume and small volume
obstacles. The drag on the ow through a porous region
can be estimated by calculating the drag due to each
individual obstacle and then summing these values to
arrive at the overall resistance.
The speed resistance factor R
Fi
(kg/m
4
) equates to
R
F
i

D
Vu
2
where V is the total volume, u is the averaged ow speed
and D is the drag. SI units are used throughout. The drag
on an individual object can be written
D
1
2
ru
2
C
D
A
where r is density, C
D
is the drag coefcient, and A is
the frontal area. The effective drag of the entire module
and all of its internal congestion was then taken to be
the sum of the drag of each obstacle:
D

i
1
2
ru
2
C
(i)
D
A
(i)
where C
D
(i)
and A
(i)
are values for an individual
obstacle.Therefore,
D
1
2
ru
2

i
C
(i)
D
A
(i)
and
R
F
i

1
2
r

C
(i)
D
A
(i)
V
The formulation above uses CAD data to calculate the
actual drag for four categories of obstruction, and each
of the shapes have different drag coefcients, available
in the literature (Munson, Young & Okiishi, 1998).
Implicit in the above formulation is the assumption
that obstacles are sufciently well spaced. This issue has
been addressed in another study using a resistance para-
meter, (TNO, 1989) where corrections were made for
obstacles lying in the wake of another obstacle. In Pack-
woods (2000) simulations the main deciency found is
that it overestimates the total resistance in cases where
grids are closely spaced, due to the partial shielding
effect of an upstream grid on a downstream one. A tech-
nique which sums the drag of all of the obstacles within
the module may similarly overpredict the overall resist-
ance.
The Engineering Sciences Data Unit Item 74040
(1974) provides a method for estimating the pressure
drop across tube banks which takes into account the
spacing of the obstacles. This method was used to test
the effect of spacing. It assumes that all of the obstruc-
tions are circular cylinders, and that the ow is con-
strained to go through the tube matrix rather than around
it. The resistance of an array of typical dimensions and
1 m spacing were calculated using both the ESDU
method and the method that sums the drag. A difference
of 7.5% was found in the ventilation. This is negligible
when considering the role of the ventilation gures in
the calculation of gas cloud size and explosion assess-
ments, but indicates that the method could be
improved nonetheless.
4. Validation
The ability of the porous block approximation in the
CFX code to represent ow through congested modules
was evaluated using measurements from a full scale
module and the results from another code, EXSIM
(http://www.exsim.com). EXSIM is a CFD based
software tool specically designed for explosion model-
ling, which models more of the complex geometry
within a congested region.
Simulations were carried out of the ow through a
module of dimensions 28 m 12 m 8 m with one
long side, the adjacent short side and the top blocked.
Five different wind speeds were modelled, ranging from
2.77.8 m/s, and the same wind direction was used in
344 C.E. Fothergill et al. / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 16 (2003) 341347
every case, with the wind impinging on the short blocked
side of the module. Velocities from CFX were compared
at the locations where measurements were taken in the
module. The velocities for the different windspeeds were
non-dimensionalised by the ambient windspeed in each
case. The non-dimensionalised values from each differ-
ent wind speed simulation were then averaged to give a
single value at each location for the measurements and
the model.
The experimental programme was carried out in a
Joint Industry Project with 11 participating companies
(BG Technology, 1999). Velocities were measured
inside an experimental rig representative of an offshore
module, in different wind speeds. The rig was on open
land with trees and buildings in the vicinity. Ten anem-
ometers were placed in two planes, one at eight m along
the length of the rig, and the other at 20 m along the
length of the rig.
The domain in the CFX model extended ve module
heights around the module and 15 heights downwind, in
accordance with guidance found in Casey and Win-
tergerste, (2000). The domain was divided into cells on
a 0.5 m grid. The inlet velocity was tted with a log
law prole
U

ln

z
z
o

A surface roughness length of zo = 0.5 m, appropriate


for the location of the model, was used. The k - turbu-
lence model was used, and turbulent kinetic energy at
the inlet was derived from wind tunnel measurements.
The CAD data describing the module was used with the
method described above, which sums the drag of all the
individual obstacles. This gave the porosity and resist-
ance of the porous block that represented the internal
congestion of the module, with porosity = 0.93 and R
x
= 0.11kg/m
4
. Fig. 2 shows the congestion inside the
module.
The EXSIM model takes account of more of the
details of the congestion, by using CAD data to calculate
a porosity and resistance appropriate to the congestion
in each cell on a coarse (1 m) grid to use in the PDR
formulation. The k - turbulence model in EXSIM
includes turbulence source terms appropriate to ow
through congested regions.
5. Results and analysis
The vector plot in Fig. 3 illustrates, in plan view, the
results of the CFX simulations with an ambient wind
speed of 6.7 m/s. The ambient wind is approaching from
the left hand side and impinging on the short blocked
side. The ow leaves the module at the upwind end of
the long open side due to the pressure reduction, and
Fig. 2. Geometry of experimental rig.
ow is entering at the downwind end to compensate for
this. Fig. 4, a, b, and c show the u, v, and w components
of the velocity predicted and measured at the ten anem-
ometer locations. The reversed ow shown in the vector
plot (Fig. 3) helps to explain why the u velocities pre-
dicted by CFX are all negative. The CFX prediction of
the velocity component is close to the experimental
values in almost every case. This is surprisingly good
because the CFD velocity is representative of the entire
cell and so is an average over 0.5 m. The anemometers
on the other hand are amongst the geometry of the mod-
ule and measure the velocity at that point, which will be
affected by any nearby obstructions. Thus we would not
expect precise agreement with the measurements. A few
of the velocities are in the opposite direction to those
measured, which will be due to the effect of the local
obstructions on the ow past the anemometers.
Turbulence predicted by CFX and EXSIM was also
compared. The comparison was of the same arrangement
with two adjacent sides and the top blocked, and the
wind impinging on the short blocked side. Fig. 5 a & b
show that the both the turbulent kinetic energy and the
turbulent eddy dissipation predicted by CFX is much
lower than EXSIM. The coarser EXSIM mesh will
account for part of the difference because small features
that could be resolved on the CFX mesh would be coun-
ted as turbulent energy by EXSIM. The most important
reason for the difference in turbulence is that EXSIM
uses a source term to increase turbulence in the wake of
obstacles. The increase in turbulence when ow
345 C.E. Fothergill et al. / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 16 (2003) 341347
Fig. 3. Flow vectors in and around module from CFX.
Fig. 4. a,b,c. Comparison of non-dimensionalised u, v & w compo-
nents of velocity.
Fig. 5. a,b. Turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) and turbulent eddy dissi-
pation (TED) predicted by CFX and EXSIM.
impinges on an obstacle is signicant, and its role as a
mechanism for increasing ame speed in explosions is
well established (Brandeis, 1985; Dorge, Pangritz &
Wagner, 1976). EXSIM is primarily an explosion model
that has been designed to capture these effects, and
therefore provides a more accurate prediction of turbu-
lence than the CFX porous model. If the obstacles in the
geometry were resolved in CFX then the turbulence
would be predicted, but the CFX porous approximation
purely reduces the volume available for free ow, and
adds resistance to the ow. The porous model in CFX
would benet from improved turbulence prediction
because of the effects on the mean ow, and because
this would allow the ammable volumes to be calculated
more accurately when using the random walk method.
While the best approach would be to dene a source
346 C.E. Fothergill et al. / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 16 (2003) 341347
term in the k - equations, this is complicated to do in
CFX at the application level. One technique to improve
the turbulence prediction is to use a model similar to
that which is typically implemented at boundaries such
as inlets, based on the local velocity eld and local tur-
bulence length scale. This can be implemented in CFX
using an extra FORTRAN routine which can introduce
a source of any kind at any location within a domain.
The turbulent kinetic energy k and the turbulent eddy
dissipation could be replaced by values calculated
locally using the following:
k C
1
U
2
e
C
2
k
3/2
Lt
pm
where Lt
pm
is the turbulent length scale in the porous
media, akin to the interstice size, and C
1
and C
2
are con-
stants. The values of these are problem specic, and as
such are difcult to recommend. One method of nding
the constant values would be to set up a model of
obstacles representing the porous region explicitly. The
local turbulence constants required to achieve similar
levels of turbulence in the porous media could then be
determined.
6. Conclusions
A new method has been developed to derive the resist-
ance that is used to modify the Navier-Stokes equations
in the Porosity Distributed Resistance formulation. A
large scale model of an offshore module was simulated
using CFX-4. Comparison with the measurements
showed that overall the CFD model performs very well,
especially considering that the homogenous porosity
block does not model any of the internal obstructions
and therefore would not predict any local ow effects.
This gives condence that the overall ow pattern is suf-
ciently close to the local ow patterns to be used in
explosion assessments.
The porous approximation in CFX is found to under-
predict the turbulence intensity in the obstacle array. The
PDR formulation does not account for the signicant tur-
bulence created by obstacles, whereas the EXSIM k -
turbulence model has been modied to capture the
extra turbulence. Improving the turbulence prediction in
the porous model would be valuable, rstly because it
would provide more accurate inputs to random walk
methods of calculating ammable volume, and secondly
because the turbulence itself can affect the mean ow.
A relatively simple method of increasing the turbulence
in porous regions is proposed, by locally specifying the
turbulence to raise it to levels found when the obstacles
are modelled explicitly.
The CFD model can be used to provide the non-uni-
form natural ventilation owelds of complex regions
for future explosion assessments at a hierarchy of levels,
whether simple approximate methods are adequate or
more complex methods are required to calculate the
ammable volume, in addition to providing pressure
boundary conditions for simple zone models.
Acknowledgements
Acknowledgements are given to the Engineering and
Physical Sciences Research Council and to Shell
Research for funding this work, and to the Joint Industry
Project for providing experimental results.
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