EPCC develops new modelling techniques for the chemical and oil and gas industry

Global equipment manufacturers in the chemical and oil and gas industry, such as Sulzer Chemtech, often rely on commercial Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software tools for the design of their equipment. These commercial codes are currently unable to handle complex twophase flows which exhibit challenging interfaces between gas and liquids such as travelling waves. The formation of interfacial waves, their frequency and amplitude are particularly difficult to model in industrial environments.

Dr Prashant Valluri of the University of Edinburgh and his team accelerate the impact of world leading research in the modelling of complex flow systems for industrial applications such as distillation, absorption, carbon capture and oil refining. Their research aims to lead to new practices in CFD modelling, disrupting industry’s current reliance on empirical design practice for chemical technology equipment such as structured packings. A new software tool relying on rigorous high performance computing simulation of multiphase flow and transport phenomena will be developed, with expert feedback from users at Sulzer, so that it can be routinely used by industry in the future.

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Dr Valluri explains the importance of TPLS, a high-resolution 3D Direct Numerical Simulation code for two-phase flows that we have developed in collaboration with Dr Valluri and Dr Lennon Ó Náraigh, University College Dublin: “Understanding multiphase flows with rigorous simulations is crucial for the accurate and economic design of any industrial units. Until recently, rigorous flow simulations were mainly restricted to academic environments and only empirical simulation methods being so-called ‘design-ready’ despite tremendous errors. However, over the past decade, falling costs and faster multi-thread processors have led to cluster computing becoming more widespread in industrial R&D units and powerful supercomputing clusters such as ARCHER becoming more accessible. “Industry is now getting ready to embrace rigorous simulations not only for accuracy but also for a strong economic argument given smaller trial-and-error commissioning downtimes and reduced physical pilot plant trials.”

The IAA project of EPCC with Sulzer is an example. EPCC is at the heart of TPLS Solver. Through a series of HECToR/ARCHER and EPSRC projects, Sulzer has been fortunate to have EPCC by their side all along. EPCC’s best practices in optimisation, data management, code structures and numerical strategies have given TPLS its ultra-powerful bite – making it the only two-phase flow direct numerical simulation solver bespoke for supercomputing architectures with the choice of two highly powerful interface capturing algorithms. “Now at version 2 with over 700 downloads since 2013, and many more physical and computational enhancements underway, we are confident that with EPCC by our side, industrial/commercial uptake of TPLS will increase in the next four years!”

The three-way collaboration between industry, HPC centres and research groups is vital to delivering excellence and finding solutions for engineering show-stoppers like this one in the chemical process industry. In EXCELLERAT we take this a step further: we identify a set of transdisciplinary commonalities, and then find the right way to deal with the problems associated to give solutions to more than one industries at once.