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Experimental and tomography-based CFD investigations of the flow in open cell metal foams with application to aero engine separators

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  • Thiago P. De Carvalho
  • Hervé P. Morvan
  • David Hargreaves
  • Hatem Oun
  • Andrew Kennedy


Oil-air separation is a key function in aero engines with closed-loop oil systems. Typically, aero engine air/oil separators employ the use of a porous medium such as open cell metal foams, as a secondary separation mechanism. Assessing its impact on overall separation is important since non-captured oil is released overboard. Computational fluid dynamics offers a possibility to evaluate the metal foam separation effectiveness. A pore scale numerical modelling methodology is applied to determine the transport properties of fluid flow through open cell metal foams. Microcomputer tomography scans were used to generate a 3D digital representation of commercial open cell metal foams of different grades. Foam structural properties such as porosity, specific surface, pore size distribution and the minimum size of a representative elementary volume are directly extracted from the CT scans. Subsequently, conventional finite volume simulations are carried out on the realistic tomography based foam samples. Simulations were performed for a wide range of Reynolds numbers. The feasibility of using standard Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) turbulence models is investigated here. As part of the method validation, samples with varying lengths were simulated. Pressure drop values were compared on a length-normalized basis against in-house experimental data. The oil phase was modelled using a Lagrangian particle tracking approach. Boundary conditions for the oil phase were extracted from a previous CFD simulation of a full breather device in the ground idle regime (worst separation effectiveness). Steady state particle tracking simulations were run for droplet diameters ranging from 0.5-15 μm, and for flow inlet velocities ranging from 10 - 60 m/s. Stochastic tracking was taken into account in order to model the effects of turbulence on the particle trajectories. Simulations were run on different types of foam and the results are compared qualitatively. The procedure has shown that pore scale modelling is a valid tool to capture the flow field and model oil separation inside open cell metal foams. However, at the moment there is no experimental data available for validation of the oil phase modelling.