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1 Copyright 2012 by ASME

THE ECKERT NUMBER PHENOMENON IN PIPELINE DECOMPRESSION




Ajit Godbole
University of Wollongong
Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Philip Venton
Venton and Associates
Bundanoon, NSW, Australia
Cheng Lu
University of Wollongong
Wollongong NSW, Australia
Philip Colvin
Jemena
Sydney, NSW, Australia


ABSTRACT
The Eckert number emerges as an important non-
dimensional parameter, in addition to the Reynolds number and
the Prandtl number, in problems involving heat transfer in
compressible flows. The Eckert number is considered to
represent a ratio of the flow kinetic energy at the wall and the
specific enthalpy difference between the wall and the fluid, and
is important when viscous dissipation is significant. This paper
investigates the role played by the Eckert number during rapid
decompression of high pressure gas pipelines. During such
processes, the gas temperature attains very low values
corresponding to sonic flow at the vent location, and it is often
assumed that the pipeline material is also cooled to a
comparable degree (Low Temperature Excursions). This has
often led to over-specification of the properties required of the
pipeline material. In this paper, it is shown using
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations that the
highly complex flow during rapid decompression of high-
pressure gas pipelines leads to significant frictional dissipation
(heating) adjacent to the pipe wall. This prevents the pipeline
from attaining excessively low temperatures. It is shown that
frictional heating may sometimes lead to a heat transfer
reversal. This finding may help pipeline designers in making
appropriate recommendations regarding the properties required
of the pipeline materials. The paper also describes a
preliminary experiment designed carried out to validate the
CFD simulations. More detailed experiments are under way.
INTRODUCTION
This study is part of a wide-ranging investigation on
pressure and temperature transients in pipeline processes and
facilities, undertaken under the aegis of the Energy Pipelines
Collaborative Research Centre (EPCRC), Australia. A pressure
change in compressed natural gas is accompanied by
temperature change. A drop in pressure of about 1000 kPa is
accompanied by a fall in the gas temperature of about 5C.
Depressurizing events with initial operating pressures of 10-15
MPa can lead to very significant cooling of the rapidly escaping
gas. This is termed Low Temperature Excursions (LTE). The
perception is that this, in turn, may result in excessive cooling
of the pipeline material, causing embrittlement and thus a
reduced resistance to fracture and cracking. Hence it is
recommended in the Australian Standard [1] that:
A pipeline shall not be operated at combinations of high stress
and low temperatures that fall outside the limits set in the
design.
Low temperature conditions are associated with a number of gas
pipeline operations, including:
a) initial filling and pressurization;
b) depressurization;
c) purging prior to repressurization;
d) repressurization;
e) throttling through a valve designed for the purpose of
temporarily reducing the pressure in a downstream pipe
(required, for example, for a pipe that has experienced
damage);
f) throttling across a valve.
The pipeline design is required to consider each operating
condition that has the potential to cause temperatures lower than
the minimum design temperature of the pipeline, or its
components. It is required to document the controls
incorporated in the design, and any operational procedures
required to comply with the high-stress-low-temperature limits.
Unless the properties of the materials incorporated in the design
Proceedings of the 2012 9th International Pipeline Conference
IPC2012
September 24-28, 2012, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
IPC2012-90344
2 Copyright 2012 by ASME
support the use of an alternative limit, it is recommended that
the hoop stress in any component does not exceed 85 MPa
when the temperature of the pipe wall is lower than -29C [1].
Uncertainty about the response of pipeline and pipeline
component materials to LTE often results in excessively
stringent material specifications and cost increases. There is a
need for predicting pipeline temperature during pressure change
events to gauge the soundness of the specifications. However,
computer programs commonly used by various organizations to
predict temperature changes accompanying a pressure change
have been shown to produce widely different results when given
identical input information [2]. This is true of gas
temperatures, and often pipeline material temperatures are not
determined. In spite of this, pipeline material specifications and
recommendations are often based on the results of such
simulations. The implicit assumption seems to be that the metal
is also cooled to a degree comparable to that of the gas. There
is also a lack of experimental measurements of metal
temperatures during gas pipeline pressure change events such as
depressurization. This circumstance calls for detailed
analytical, computational and experimental studies of pressure
and thermal transients in pipelines. Particular consideration is
needed for establishing the transition temperature of the
linepipe intended for operation at low ambient temperatures and
pressures greater than 10.2 MPa and as high as 15.3 MPa.
THE ECKERT NUMBER EFFECT
The significance of the Eckert number (defined as the ratio
of kinetic energy at the wall to the enthalpy difference between
the wall and the fluid) was first noticed in experiments carried
out to cool commutators by forced convection [3]. It was
noticed that the heat transfer from the commutator to the fluid
stream could not be increased any further above a rotational
Reynolds number ~2.5(10
6
). This observation was explained
theoretically by Geropp [4]. The theory, based on boundary
layer equations, also predicted a reversal in heat transfer at a
rotational Reynolds number ~6.9(10
6
). This prediction was
subsequently tested experimentally by Gschwendtner [5], who
also found that a maximum heat transfer from the commutator
wall to the fluid occurs at an Eckert number value ~0.3.
The purpose of the current investigation is to determine
whether the Eckert number (frictional dissipation in the
boundary layer) has a similar role to play in case of LTE during
pipeline depressurization, preventing the pipe wall from
reaching excessively low temperatures.
PIPELINE DEPRESSURIZATION
Of the many pipeline processes during which low
temperatures are likely to prevail, this paper focuses on the
depressurization of a pipeline that initially contains highly
compressed gas. Such a situation may arise from a deliberate
action such as pipeline blowdown, or accidentally as in case of
pipe rupture [6]. In any case, the process is accompanied by
initiation of a decompression wave that travels away from the
opening, at a velocity dictated by instantaneously prevailing
conditions (pressure, temperature). This velocity is nearly
equal to the speed of sound in the gas, and there is some
evidence that the decompression wave velocity is also affected
by the roughness of the pipe wall inner surface [7]. At any
instant during the highly unsteady decompression process, part
of the gas in the pipeline is in motion towards the opening. The
remainder is still untouched by the decompression wave.
Moreover, it can be shown that the gas flow is choked at the
exit plane, where the flow Mach number is ~1 [8]. The motion
of the gas in the pipeline is thus complex, ranging from
stationary to subsonic to sonic (Figure 1). At the opening, the
flow velocity is the greatest, while the gas temperature is the
lowest. These conditions are accompanied by complex heat
transfer between the gas and the confining pipe wall. It is this
heat transfer that determines the temperature attained by the
pipeline material during the decompression process.
It would appear that the greatest possibility of excessive
metal cooling would be where the gas temperature is the lowest,
and where the cold gas maintains contact with the metal for a
sufficiently long time. However, at these locations, the gas is
also subject to very significant shear stress adjacent to the wall.
This would give rise to different degrees of frictional dissipative
heating in the shear-affected zone (boundary layer).
Figure 1 shows schematically the growth of the velocity
and thermal boundary layers at two instants of time t
1
and t
2
>t
1

during gas pipeline decompression. The difference between the
thicknesses of the velocity and thermal boundary layers is
exaggerated. The velocity boundary layer is the region adjacent
to the solid surface with the steepest velocity gradients. On the
other hand, the thermal boundary layer is the region in which
the temperature gradients are the steepest. In general, the
thicknesses of the velocity and thermal boundary layers are
different at any point in the flow field, depending upon the
relative magnitudes of the viscous diffusivity and the thermal
diffusivity of the fluid.

Figure 1 Decompression in a high-pressure pipeline

The following sections present an analysis of the boundary
layer flow during pipeline decompression, with particular
attention to the heat transfer effects.
3 Copyright 2012 by ASME
HEAT TRANSFER ANALYSIS
Adapting the Couette flow model presented in [9] to the
boundary layer in a high-speed gas flow (Figure 2), it can be
shown that the heat transfer across the fluid-solid interface is
given by:
thermal
e
thermal
e s
s
u T T k
q
o

o 2
) (
2

=
(Eq.1)

Here,
q
s
= heat flux at gas/solid interface (W/m
2
)
k = thermal conductivity of gas (W/mK)
= dynamic viscosity of gas (Pa.s)
T
s
= Temperature of the solid surface (K)
T
e
= gas temperature at the edge of the boundary layer (K)
u
e
= gas velocity at boundary layer edge (m/s)
o
thermal
= thickness of (thermal) boundary layer (m)
(NOTE: Prandtl number Pr of the order 1, so that the
thicknesses of the velocity and thermal boundary layers are
approximately equal.)

The first term in Eq. 1 is the conduction heat transfer across
a slab of thickness o
thermal
, and the second term gives the
contribution of viscous dissipation to the heat flux.

Figure 2 Couette flow model [9]

The corresponding temperature profile across the thermal
boundary layer is given by
(
(

|
|
.
|

\
|

thermal e s
e
thermal e s
s
y
T T k
u y
T T
T T
o

o
1
) ( 2
1
2
(Eq. 2)

The shape of the temperature profile (Figure 3) is dictated
by the dimensionless parameter u
e
2
/(k(T
s
T
e
)), a combination
of the Eckert number and the Prandtl number (also called the
Brinkman number Br = 2 Ec Pr). The greater the contribution
of the second term, the greater is the frictional dissipation
within the boundary layer.
For sufficiently high values of the Eckert number (Ec >
~1), or the Brinkman number (Br > ~2), frictional dissipation
within the boundary layer may be strong enough to cause a heat
transfer reversal at the wall. Even if there is no actual heat
transfer reversal, it can be seen that frictional dissipation drives
the slope of the temperature profile at the wall towards zero,
corresponding to the adiabatic wall condition. The overall
effect is that the wall does not see the free stream fluid
temperature T
e
, but a higher temperature. The temperature
difference that drives the heat transfer at the wall is thus
reduced, and so is the heat transfer from the wall.

Figure 3 Temperature profile across boundary layer
The heat transfer q between the gas (temperature T
gas
) and
the pipe wall (temperature T
pipe
) is determined by the difference
in temperature between the pipe wall and the flowing gas:
( )
gas pipe
T T A h q =
(Eq. 3)

Here h is the coefficient of (convective) heat transfer,
whose magnitude is determined by the condition of the flow
(laminar/turbulent, incompressible/compressible, etc), and A is
the area across which the heat transfer occurs. Conventionally,
h is non-dimensionalized as the Nusselt number Nu
L
= h/(kL),
where k is the thermal conductivity of the gas and L an
appropriate length scale.
Based on dimensional analysis [9], it can be shown that, in
high speed (compressible) flows,
( ) Pr Pr, , Re Ec f Nu
L L
=
(Eq. 4)

The term EcPr is a measure of the frictional dissipation.
In case of the decompression wave, an analysis of the
details of the highly complex transient flow is virtually
impossible by conventional mathematical techniques. However,
developments in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)
techniques hold the promise that this flow can be analyzed by
numerically, and that useful information can be extracted from
such an analysis.
If it can be demonstrated from such an analysis that during
pipeline decompression, the value of the Eckert number
approaches 1 or exceeds it, this will establish the significance of
the Eckert number and its effect of heat transfer from the pipe
wall during such events.
4 Copyright 2012 by ASME
2D CFD STUDIES
Taking advantage of the axial symmetry of the physical
flow domain, a 2-dimensional computational domain was
constructed (Figure 4). A number of two-dimensional transient
simulations of the flow with conjugate heat transfer were
carried out to gauge the effect of the initial conditions (pressure,
temperature) of the gas.

Figure 4 2D computational mesh detail
The working fluid was assumed to be dry air behaving as an
ideal gas with temperature-dependent properties. The physical
domain modelled was a DN50 steel pipe (ID 52.5 mm, OD 60.3
mm), and 5 m long. These particular dimensions were chosen
to conform to the experimental arrangement as originally
proposed. A total of 15 combinations of initial pressure and
temperature were assumed: initial pressure 10, 20, 50, 100 and
150 bar gauge, and initial temperature 20C, 10C and 0C.
Each simulation was carried out over a time period of 5 ms,
which was sufficiently small to ensure that the decompression
wave did not reach the closed end. A smooth wall was
assumed, although it is expected that a rough wall will probably
result in enhancing the frictional heating effect, if any. The
standard k-c model for turbulence was used.
Figure 5 shows a typical instantaneous velocity vector field (at
5 ms from commencement) during the evolving transient flow.
A steep velocity gradient is seen near the wall, along with a
full velocity profile characteristic of turbulent flow.

Figure 5 Typical velocity vector field near exit
Figures 6 to 8 show a typical instantaneous (5 ms from the start)
set of simulation results for one of the 15 cases tested (initial
pressure 10 bar g, initial temperature 20C). The plots show
that the decompression wave has travelled approximately 1.5 m
away from the opening. There is a significant difference
between the gas temperature on the pipe axis and that near the
pipe wall, in the boundary layer. More importantly, Figure 8
shows the variation of the Eckert number in the direction of the
flow, showing that its value approaches unity at a point where
the difference between the axis and near-wall temperatures is
the greatest. This shows that the decompression is accompanied
by significant frictional heating adjacent to the wall.

Figure 6 Gas temperatures on axis and near pipe wall


Figure 7 Temperature difference between axis and near
wall

Figure 8 Eckert number variation
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EFFECT OF INITIAL PRESSURE AND TEMPERATURE


Figure 9 Effect of initial pressure, T
0
= 20C

Figure 9 above shows the effect of initial pressure on the
difference between gas temperature on the pipe axis and that
near the pipe wall, with an initial temperature of 20C. With
increasing initial pressure, the difference is progressively
reduced. This indicates that for higher initial pressures, the
decompression process is too rapid to let frictional heating
establish itself sufficiently.
This observation also points to the importance of estimating the
effect of LTE for high initial pressures and low initial
temperatures.

Figure 10 Effect of initial pressure, T
0
= 10C

Figures 10 and 11 show the effect of initial pressure on the
difference between gas temperature on the pipe axis and that
near the pipe wall, for initial temperatures of 10C and 0C
respectively. It is seen that these trends are very similar to those
seen in Figure 9 above. This observation suggests that the self-
heating in the boundary layer is a process of its own (as also
observed in [5]), and depends only on the local flow condition.


Figure 11 Effect of initial pressure, T
0
= 0C

Finally, Figure 12 below shows the variation of pipeline wall
temperature with distance on the initial pressure, at 5 ms from
the flow commencement. While the drop in the wall
temperature is seen to occur at the location of maximum flow
speed, the magnitude of this temperature drop is very small.

Figure 12 Wall temperature for different initial pressures,
T
0
= 20 C

PRELIMINARY EXPERIMENT
The CFD studies described in the preceding sections
indicated that the pipeline material does not attain excessively
low temperatures during pipeline decompression for a wide
range of initial conditions. As stated above, currently there is a
lack of experimental data on metal temperatures during pipeline
decompression events. The following paragraphs describe an
experimental exercise designed to fill this gap.
A steel pipe (ID 20.8 mm, OD 26 mm), 3.5 m in length, was
charged with dry compressed air across an open valve at the
near end (Figure 13). The far end of the pipe is fitted with a
quick-action valve, enabling instantaneous opening. Near the
6 Copyright 2012 by ASME
exit plane, the gas and metal temperatures are to be measured
using very fine thermocouples (to minimize thermal inertia)
connected to a rapid response data logger (Figure 14).

Figure 13 Experimental arrangement


Figure 14 Rapid action valve and fine thermocouple
The experimental procedure was as follows: The pipe was
charged with dry air up to an initial pressure of ~800 kPag, with
the exit valve closed. With the temperature measurement
probes in place, the exit valve was opened to enable the
compressed air to drain rapidly from the pipe. Gas and metal
temperatures were measured during the decompression. Figure
15 shows a typical result of the measurement process.

Figure 15 Typical temperature trends
It can be seen from the measurements that the metal does not
cool to nearly the same extent as the gas.
CONCLUSIONS AND FURTHER WORK
The following general conclusions can be drawn from the
studies described above:

- Pipeline decompression flows are accompanied by frictional
heating in the boundary layer flow that develops during the
course of the decompression process;
- The flow Eckert number approaches the value 1 near the
exit plane of a full-bore decompression;
- The frictional heating in the boundary layer drives the slope
of the temperature profile at the wall towards zero, resulting
in reduced heat transfer from the wall to the flowing gas;
- The result is that the pipeline material is not cooled to nearly
the same extent as the gas, even at points where the gas
temperature is the lowest.

Further work is needed to validate the above studies:
- Further detailed experimental measurements of gas and
metal temperatures in case of pipeline decompression events
to validate the above observations based on CFD studies.
This may consist of:
- Gas temperature measurements in the developing boundary
layer, along with simultaneous measurements on the pipe
axis;
- Estimating the time scales necessary for the frictional
heating to establish itself under different decompression
process conditions;
- Deducing the functional form suggested in Equation 4,
relating the heat transfer during pipeline decompression to
pipe size, the flow condition, and frictional heating effects.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This work was funded by the Energy Pipelines CRC,
supported through the Australian Governments Cooperative
Research Centre Program. The cash and in-kind support from
the APIA RSC is most gratefully acknowledged.
Grateful thanks also to Prof John Norrish, Dr Nathan
Larkin and Mr Nicholas Hoye for their assistance with the
experimental arrangement.
REFERENCES
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Design and Construction research, 17
th
Joint Technical
Meeting on Pipeline Research, 11-15 May 2009, Milan,
Italy
7 Copyright 2012 by ASME
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phenomenon: Experimental investigations on the heat
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th
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Pipeline Conference IPC2010, Sept 27-Oct 1, Calgary,
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