Optimal numerical flux of power-law fluids in some partially full pipes

Lew Lefton, Dongming Wei, Yu Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Consider the steady state pressure driven flow of a power-law fluid in a partially filled straight pipe. It is known that an increase in flux can be achieved for a fixed pressure by partially filling the pipe and having the remaining volume either void or filled with a less viscous, lubricating fluid. If the pipe has circular cross section, the fluid level which maximizes flux is the level which avoids contact with exactly 25% of the boundary. This result can be proved analytically for Newtonian fluids and has been verified numerically for certain non-Newtonian models. This paper provides a generalization of this work numerically to pipes with non-circular cross sections which are partially full with a power-law fluid. A simple and physically plausible geometric condition is presented which can be used to approximate the fluid level that maximizes flux in a wide range of pipe geometries. Additional increases in flux for a given pressure can be obtained by changing the shape of the pipe but leaving the perimeter fixed. This computational analysis of flux as a function of both fluid level and pipe geometry has not been considered to our knowledge. Fluxes are computed using a special discretization scheme, designed to uncover general properties which are only dependent on fluid level and/or pipe cross-sectional geometry. Computations use finite elements and take advantage of the variational structure inherent in the power-law model. A minimization technique for approximating the critical points of the associated non-linear energy functional is used. In particular, the numerical scheme for the non-linear partial differential equation has been proved to be convergent with known error estimates. The numerical results obtained in this work can be useful for designing pipes and canals for transportation of non-Newtonian fluids, such as those in chemical engineering and food processing engineering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-362
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Computational Fluid Dynamics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Finite elements
  • Flux
  • Non-Newtonian fluids
  • Partially full pipes
  • Pipes with non-circular cross sections
  • Power-law flows
  • Pressure driven flow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering

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