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Progress in Nuclear Energy 53 (2011) 916e920

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Numerical investigation of bent pipe ows at transitional Reynolds number

Marco Pellegrini a, *, Hiroshi Endo b, Hisashi Ninokata a

Nuclear Engineering Department, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2-12-1-N1-5 Ookayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8550, Japan
Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES), 3-17-1 Toronamon, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0001, Japan

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history:
Received 29 October 2010
Received in revised form
8 February 2011
Accepted 16 February 2011

The correct evaluation of ows at transitional Reynolds number in nuclear reactors is gaining higher
importance in relation to the accident analysis for buoyancy-driven ows which dominate the heat decay
removal process. In the present paper a comparative study of different turbulence modeling and wall
treatment for the evaluation of a uid ow in transitional Reynolds number, is presented employing
computational uid dynamics (CFD). The relative performance of the models is assessed through
benchmarking of fully developed pipe ow at Reynolds number 4900 and of a 90 bend pipe at Reynolds
number 5000. Predictions of velocity proles at different locations are compared to both experimental
and accurate numerical simulations.
It has been found that the predictions between the models can vary considerably in particular in
relation to the different wall treatment employed on the wall. The results show the concerns about the
employment of the available turbulence models and wall treatments in low Reynolds number ow
regimes and explanation is provided in relation to their formulation.
2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Transitional Reynolds number
Fully developed pipes
Bent pipes

1. Introduction
During protected accident in sodium fast reactors the establishment of coolant ow inside the plant, created either by natural
convection or by forced convection, is mandatory for the safety
removal of the decay heat released by the core. In such events,
sodium experiences low ow characteristics inside the piping
system which is likely to bring the system in condition of transition
turbulence. In CFD applications, the employment of Reynolds
Average Navier Stokes (RANS) equations with two equation
turbulence models, has always been considered a reliable tool and
widely employed for the solution of ow inside pipes. The
mentioned modelization neglects the effects of viscosity, so that it
cannot be applied in the vicinity of the wall and therefore, for wallbounded ows often empirical wall functions are employed to
bridge this gap, in order to avoid modeling the viscous effects.
However the universality of such functions breaks down for
complex ows and not fully turbulent ows, as shown by Eggels
et al. (1994) and den Toonder and Nieuwstadt (1997). In this
direction near-wall k-3 turbulence models (hereafter dened as low
Reynolds number models), which attempt to model the direct
inuence of viscosity, have been proposed (Jones and Launder,
1972). Those models are generally regarded as a more reliable

* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (M. Pellegrini).
0149-1970/$ e see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

and general formulation to solve the ow in contrast to a higher

computational requirement. Conversely, as widely investigated by
Patel et al. (1984) and Hrenya et al. (1995) those models are
formulated for conditions of fully turbulent ows. The second
author shows indeed how the assessment of the velocity prole
and turbulence values for transitional ows brings to signicant
deviations from direct numerical simulation and experimental
Moreover, even though fully developed turbulent pipe ows
represent a relatively simple ow yet one of utmost importance in
engineering community, nevertheless nuclear power plants piping
system often consist of numerous bends in order to accommodate
the thermal stresses arising during the plant operation. The nal
focus of the present study therefore will be the evaluation of ow
characteristics downstream of a bend pipe with strong curvature in
transitional ow regime, which will extend the considerations
established for the fully developed pipe.
The purpose of the present investigation is therefore twofold:
(1) To compare turbulence modeling and different wall treatments
in order to evaluate their behavior in transitional ows and to
point out the weaknesses the drive further and more accurate
(2) To evaluate the combination of models (turbulence and wall
treatment) which is more suitable to study protected transients
in a nuclear reactor piping system in order to extend the study
to buoyancy-driven non-isothermal ows in future analysis.

M. Pellegrini et al. / Progress in Nuclear Energy 53 (2011) 916e920

2. Numerical analysis
In the following study two different benchmarks are analyzed
through the commercial CFD code, Star-CCM 5.02.009. In the
present work the RANS equations,


1 vP
n j  ui uj

r vxj vxi vxi


are solved for incompressible ows, where the term ui uj needs

closure. To perform the closure task two eddy viscosity models,
namely k-3 and k-u, and the Reynolds Stress Transport (RST) model
were employed for the comparative approach. For the k-3 model,
two different ways of solving the ow close to the wall were also
compared. The implemented version of the low Reynolds number
model (Lien et al., 1996), already introduced in chapter 1, which
adds damping functions in the 3 and eddy viscosity equations, was
compared with a two layer formulation based on the modeling
given by Wolfshtein (1968), in order to assess their behavior in
transitional Reynolds number ows. A common setting for the k-3
model used in this work is the employment of the non linear cubic
formulation of the eddy viscosity, which is demonstrated to
improve the predictions of ows with swirl and streamline curvature, as in the case of bent pipes, through a non linear combination
of mean strain rate tensor and mean vorticity tensor. The cubic
formulation, as developed in (Lien et al., 1996) is shown in Eq. (2):

ui uj

kdij  nt Sij C1 nt Sik Skj  dij Skl Skl


C2 nt Uik Skj  dij Ujk Ski C3 nt Uik Ujk  dij Ukl Ukl
k2 h
C4 nt 2 Ulj Ski Skl Uli Skj Skl

C5 nt 2 Uil Ulm Smj Umj Ulm Sil  Slm Umm Unl dij

C6 nt 2 Skl Skl Sij C7 nt 2 Ukl Ukl Sij

and is employed in this analysis, where Sij and Uij are the mean
strain rate and mean vorticity tensor, respectively.
k-u turbulence model does not present any need of special treatments close to the wall, as this model acts effectively as a low Reynolds
number model without need of further modications and therefore,
even though two-layer modeling could be formulated, their
employment in the present analysis would not act as a further
comparison but as a lack of generalization. The model employed in the
present work follows the implementation given by Menter (1994),
and dened Shear-Stress Transport (SST) model where, for the
present case, the low Reynolds number modications of the coefcients, as introduced by Wilcox (Wilcox, 1993) and demonstrated to
improve results in these conditions, are employed. For the present
model the linear formulation of the eddy viscosity was employed
since the non linear formulation is not available in the employed code.
Finally the RST model, which solves the transport equations for
the components of the Reynolds stress tensor is employed with twolayer modelization which acts in a similar way as already described
for k- 3 model two-layer. This model, solving the equations for the
Reynolds stresses, accounts for ow swirl and anisotropy effects, and
therefore considered mandatory in the present study in order to
accomplish a complete comparison of the most suitable turbulence
models. Even though regarded as a general model, one of the RSTs
drawback is the introduction of modelization for all the Reynolds


Table 1
Summary of the turbulence models and wall treatment employed in the comparative analysis.1
Turbulence Model

Wall Treatment

Two Layer

k-3 cubic
k-u SST



stresses transport equations (6 non equal components), therefore

a low Reynolds number modeling would imply a higher load of
modelization, which would introduce higher uncertainties and
therefore not satisfactorily for the applications and not commonly
employed for the comparisons.
Hereafter in Table 1 a summary of the models employed and the
wall treatments is shown in order to clarify the comparison held in
the next analysis.
The equations shown in (1) are solved in second-order accuracy
in space. The ow is solved as incompressible and the connection
between continuity and momentum equations is achieved with
Rhie-Chow pressure-velocity coupling combined with the SIMPLE
2.1. Fully developed pipe: evaluation of low Reynolds number ows
Eggels et al. (1994) numerically and later on den Toonder and
Nieuwstadt (1997) experimentally showed the velocity eld of
a developed pipe for low Reynolds numbers (Re 4900). Both
demonstrated that the universal law of the wall, which is valid for fully
turbulent ows, is not suitable to represent the velocity prole in the
log law during low Reynolds number regimes, as shown in Fig. 1. In
particular the log law in this condition is shifted, behavior which
persists as demonstrated by the previous authors up to Re z 10,000.
This consideration leads to think that in conditions of transitional Reynolds number in a pipe, where the ow shows different
non dimensional behavior, the turbulence models and the related
wall treatments, which are developed not based on general physical consideration but set on fully turbulent considerations and
experiments, could introduce discrepancies in comparison with the
real physical conditions.
2.1.1. Geometry and mesh
For this analysis the common application of fully developed
ow, introducing periodic boundary conditions to a short portion of
a circular pipe, was employed. The computational domain was
created in order to achieve a small y (lower than 1 in the rst cell
close to the wall) so that we can employ the same mesh independently for two layer and low Reynolds wall treatments. 20 layers in
the region of y < 20 were created for the boundary layer. The
application of the settings to solve the present case represents
a basic approach in the CFD application and available in the user
guide of every commercial and non-commercial code and for these
reasons skipped in the present explanation.
2.1.2. Results
For the k-3 model the inuence of the two different wall treatments (low-Re or two layer model) was assessed. The related results
are plotted in Fig. 2 a). From the gure the main point is that k-3 low

It has to be noticed that the k-u low Reynolds number modeling has actually
a different meaning compared to the k-e low Reynolds number modeling where
damping functions are added to the standard formulation of nt and e. For the k-u
model instead it means that it is solved through the boundary layer, i.e. at low
Reynolds effects but no damping functions are added.


M. Pellegrini et al. / Progress in Nuclear Energy 53 (2011) 916e920

Table 2
Comparison of the friction velocity results between the employed

us [m/s]

DNS, Eggels (1994)

k-3 cubic low-Re
k-3 cubic Two Layer
RST Two Layer
k-u SST low-Re


2.2. Highly curved bent pipes at low Reynolds number regimes

Fig. 1. Non dimensional velocity prole for Re 4900 in comparison with the fully
turbulent log law.

Reynolds modeling behaves laminar at this level of Reynolds

number while the employment of two layer model on the wall
assures the velocity prole to resemble a turbulent prole up to the
buffer region. u prole in this case shows an underprediction in the
center part of the pipe typical of the settings based on the universal
law for fully turbulent pipes. Fig. 2 b) shows a comparison between
k-u SST for transitional ows and RST. The results show a similar non
dimensional velocity prole which provides an underestimation in
the middle of the pipe region. The above mentioned models (k-3 Two
Layer, RST Two Layer and k-u low Re) present a similar evaluation of
the non dimensional velocity prole and all of them give an
underestimation in the central region of the pipe.
Moreover the evaluation of the friction velocity (us) represents an
important characteristic of the ow because it denes the prediction
of the pressure drops in the pipe representing a major design
parameter for piping systems. Table 2 shows that the all models give
different prediction of the behavior close to the wall compared to the
DNS data, in particular k-3 low Reynolds number model gives
underprediction of the value while overestimation is found for the
other models.
These results show that the employment of a two-layer modeling
on the wall (k-3, RST), which was developed for fully turbulent regions
cannot predict accurately the results provided by DNS and experiments regarding the velocity prole and therefore, even though not
shown here, similar conclusions can be done for the turbulent values
(e.g. k, 3, ns) which inuence the nal shape of the velocity. Doubts are
instead shown for the application of the low Reynolds modications
on the k-u SST; indeed from the present results, the modied coefcients developed for the standard formulation of k-u, dont show any
improvement in the application on the Menter modeling.

Flows in 90 degrees bends are almost always developing ows,

in which the velocity distributions do not attain forms that are
independent of the position along the pipe axis. The existence of
secondary circulations in curved channels and pipes was demonstrated by various experimental and theoretical studies, in which is
shown that the redirection of the ow in a bend generates a pressure eld that balances the centrifugal forces of the uid. The ow
is characterized by two counter rotating vortices (Dean vortices or
secondary ow of the rst kind) which are generally disposed
symmetrically about the plane of the bend.
Tunstall and Harvey (1968) moreover showed that a mitre bent
(sharp bent) pipe creates an asymmetry on the secondary ows
with a switching in the rotations in clockwise and counterclockwise direction. Subsequent works by Brucker (1998) experimentally and Rutten et al. (2005) show the presence of the switching
phenomenon in highly curved bent pipes for various values of
Reynolds number including transitional ones (e.g. Re 5000). It is
demonstrated that separation occurs at bend geometries R/D z 1
where the curvature of the inner wall is strong and the Reynolds
number is low. This separation region is shown from the experimental results to be unstable, leading the secondary ows to
oscillate with a low frequency phenomenon.
2.2.1. Geometry, spatial discretization and boundary conditions
The geometry and the computational domain were built starting
from the results achieved in the previous chapter. The bent pipe
mesh was created avoiding symmetry planes as described succinctly
in Fig. 3; this choice, which increases notably the computational
domain, was done on the knowledge that the ow in these conditions might experience instability and oscillations of the secondary
ows (Brucker, 1998). The employment of a symmetry plane could
result in the inability to predict this behavior and therefore avoided
during the creation of the grid. For the pipe inlet conditions the
velocity and turbulent proles, provided by the fully developed pipe
calculations (chapter 2.1.2), were employed and applied at three
diameters from the bend inlet, which was considered far enough to
avoid the inuence of the bend.

Fig. 2. Fully developed velocity prole for different turbulence modeling and wall treatment. a) shows the k-3 model comparing between low Re and two layer wall treatment.
b) shows comparison between RST two layer and k-u low Re.

M. Pellegrini et al. / Progress in Nuclear Energy 53 (2011) 916e920


Fig. 3. Geometry and mesh for the bent pipe. Dashed arrows represent the ow direction. b) represents the grid on a pipe section and on the symmetry plane.

Fig. 4. Velocity proles at 1D on the bend exit tangent. a) shows the location of the line probes, dashed arrows represent the ow direction; b) axial velocity prole on the
symmetry plane; c) radial velocity prole and d) radial velocity prole on the symmetry plane.

2.2.2. Results
Due to the results achieved in the previous section, the evaluation
of the present case was not performed for the low Reynolds number
k-3 model, whose inlet conditions for the specied geometry would
result in a laminarized prole. Therefore three different models
were compared and the results are shown in Fig. 4 b), c) and d). The
comparison demonstrates that all the models are able to predict the
creation of secondary ows and separation region, however the k-3
model in the cubic formulation and RST are able to predict, with
a reasonable grade of accuracy the axial velocity prole in comparison with the experiment and LES data. On the other hand instead
k-u shows an underprediction in the recirculation region which is
typical for turbulence model not accounting for the streamline
curvature and with a linear description of the eddy viscosity, as
shown in Fig. 4 b). Moreover k-3 cubic model gives a better estimation of the peaks of velocity of the secondary ows in the pipe
section respect to the RST, while k-u fails completely to reproduce
the behavior of the Dean vortices predicting a wrong size of the
recirculation region showing two peaks of velocity which dont join
in the centre of the domain as claried in Fig. 4 c) and d).
The underpredicted velocity prole at the pipe inlet is in some
way hidden in a 90 degree bent pipe, where the most important

feature seems to be the ability to model the anisotropy, task achieved in the present evaluation through cubic formulation (i.e. k- 3)
or Reynolds stress denition (i.e. RST). Therefore the employment
of the above mentioned modelization shows a fair ability to provide
information about bent pipe ows at low Reynolds number.
Moreover another important aspect is that the three models
above have the characteristic to achieve results in steady state
solution which is in contradiction with the experience. All of them
show a characteristic symmetry which seems averaging the instability as shown in Fig. 4 b). This aspect is indeed extremely relevant
in the present evaluation since the modelization should be able to
provide information on the velocity proles as well as the unsteady
nature of the phenomena. Extending the considerations to those
gained for the fully developed pipe therefore, we can assert that
even though the anisotropic nature of the problem is correctly
modeled, on the other hand the non proper modelization of the
viscous affected region, which is responsible in the fully developed
pipe for inaccurate modelization of the turbulent quantities
reecting in an underpredicted velocity prole, is here responsible
for the inability in the prediction of the oscillations which, in
particular during safety analysis, can cause serious underestimation
of the effects of the transients on the structure.


M. Pellegrini et al. / Progress in Nuclear Energy 53 (2011) 916e920

3. Conclusions
Two benchmarks for the evaluation of transitional ows were
analyzed through comparison with experiments and accurate
numerical solutions. The fully developed pipe ow shows that
damping functions, employed with k-3 models, predict a laminar
ow which does not satisfy the turbulent characteristics found both
experimentally and numerically (DNS). On the other hand the
employment of a two layer approach on the wall assures the
reproduction of the turbulent prole even though some discrepancies for the evaluation of the us are introduced. Turbulent prole
but with unpredicted normalized velocity is then shown for the k-u
model also.
The 90 bent pipe evaluation instead shows how the anisotropic
models (k-3 cubic and RST) are able to predict with reasonable
accuracy the behavior of the secondary ows which inuence the
velocity prole downstream the bend. The presence of the anisotropic model seems to be the main feature to be able to predict the
phenomenon. These considerations are validated by the behavior of
the SST model which, independently from the accurate inlet
conditions, provide not accurate results for the downstream
velocity prole and secondary ow predictions.
The study shows that for the state of art turbulence models the
one which shows a high generality of application in case of bent
pipes in transitional turbulence seems to be the k-3 model together
with the employment of two layer approach for the wall treatment
which, even though underestimating the prole of the fully
developed ow, is able to capture the main characteristics of the
ow downstream an elbow with strong curvature.
As a nal remark the authors would add that the employment of
low Reynolds number k-3 model, despite the achieved results in
Section 2.1.2, is regarded to be potentially generic and able to
improve the general predictions of the ow, such as the prediction
of the instability which is not accessed via two layer treatment of
the wall. The reasons of its failure are to be imputed to the applied

damping functions which show a not proper behavior out of their

range of applicability.
This work points out the deciencies and the strength points of
the available turbulence modeling, representing a starting point for
a possible development of a more general approach which could
combine application to high Reynolds number and transitional
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