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Applied Thermal Engineering 30 (2010) 826832

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Numerical simulation of the ow streams behavior in a self-regenerative

crucible furnace
Francisco Cadavid *, Bernardo Herrera, Andrs Amell
Science and Technology of Gases and Rational Use of Energy Group, Faculty of Engineering, University of Antioquia, Calle 67 No. 53-108 Bloque 20-435, Medelln, Colombia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This paper presents a three dimensional numerical simulation with experimental validation of a gas-red
Received 13 August 2009 self-regenerative crucible furnace. Turbulence, radiation and chemical reactions are simulated using the
Accepted 13 December 2009 software Gambit V2 and Fluent V6.2. Different combustion models are used to assess their effects on the
Available online 16 December 2009
numerical results. Aerodynamics, temperature elds, species proles and emissions are compared with
the experimental data. The results indicate that ke RNG model predicts the formation of two concentric
Keywords: swirls: the rst one elevating up to the top of the furnace and the second one going down and reaching
Numerical simulation
the outlet. In addition, it was found that is important to inject the fuel using certain vertical inclination of
Self-regenerative burner
Crucible furnace
the nozzle in order to obtain a longer and ater ame. Finally, the use of PDF mixture fraction model for
Cyclone combustion chamber combustion causes overprediction of both temperature and CO, while Finite Rate/Eddy Dissipation model
is rougher for temperature and species prediction.
2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction system for crucible furnaces that can be used for melting non-fer-
rous metal; this crucible furnace uses a graphite or an iron pot. In
Industrial furnaces for heating processes at high temperature this system, the burner has two nozzles for air and gas injection
usually have low levels of thermal efciency when heat recovery and it can change alternatively the side of the burner that is work-
systems are not implemented. Therefore, better technological ing in combustion mode [6]. They have obtained a at, long ame,
innovations to save energy are offered [1]. which is tangential to crucible. Also, they have demonstrated that
In developing countries like Colombia, small and medium their burner saves about 35% of the total energy that enter into the
enterprises with high temperature processes, such as casting and system and the CO and NOx emissions remain lower than 200 ppm.
heat treatment, are characterized for having combustion and heat- Nevertheless, they do not report numerical simulations of their
ing equipment with a high degree of technological obsolescence, device.
low thermal efciency and high pollutant emissions [1]. Therefore, Kirpo et al. and Baake et al. have studied the turbulent metallic
one of the technologies with the largest application potential in ow in an electric induction crucible furnace using Large Eddy
enterprises with casting and heat treatment processes is a crucible Simulation (LES); the simulated the motion of the molten metal in-
furnace with a thermal input lower or equal to 120 kW, and side the crucible [7,8]. Their results have shown that LES model can
equipped with an auto-regenerative burner. To design this kind be effectively used for investigation of species transport in the mol-
of furnaces a series of ow-dynamic and combustion phenomena ten metal using the particle tracing method.
has to be examined to achieve reliability in the nal results, to low- On the other hand, Nieckele et al. have simulated different bur-
er the development time and manufacturing costs. On the other ner congurations in an aluminum remelting reverb furnace that
hand, numerical simulation offers a signicant approximation to uses staged oxi-combustion, using ke standard model for turbu-
the aerodynamical and combustion phenomena occurring inside lence and the Finite Rate/Eddy Dissipation model for combustion
the furnace, which can not be observed experimentally [25]. [9]. From the results obtained, it can be concluded that the staged
Few works has been done to analyze thermal and chemical combustion process with a divergent jet presented the best cong-
behavior of melting furnaces using numerical simulations, but no uration, since the ame length was not too long to damage the
one of them examines the uidynamic, thermal and combustion refractory wall.
performance of a natural gas regenerative crucible furnace. Shibata In this work the wall temperature distribution, outlet emissions,
et al. have developed a compact self-regenerative gas-red burner uidynamics and combustion behavior in an auto-regenerative
crucible furnace is studied by comparison between the numerical
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +57 4 219 55 29; fax: +57 4 219 55 18. results and the experimental data. Numerical simulation has been
E-mail address: (F. Cadavid). achieved using two combustion models in steady state: PDF

1359-4311/$ - see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
F. Cadavid et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 30 (2010) 826832 827


k turbulent kinetic energy, m2/s2 Greek symbol

e turbulence dissipation rate, m2/s3

mixture fraction and Finite Rate/Eddy Dissipation. Both of the this batch furnace, there is a transient thermal start-up, during
models have different considerations about the combustion reac- the start-up the thermal load is heated up to fusion temperature,
tions, this approach allows the identication of the main phenom- after that, the operation continues being pseudo-stable due to
ena governing the combustion progress inside the furnace. the alternation needed for heat regeneration.
During the simulation the pass of the air through the honey-
comb regenerative was not included. Nevertheless, combustion
2. Numerical simulation air was preheated up to 600 C which is approximately the inlet
temperature measured at the exit of the regenerator. On the other
2.1. System description hand, the simulation considered steady state ow, combustion and
transport for one of the 30 s period of heating, i.e. only one burner
The auto-regenerative crucible furnace simulated in this study works in combustion mode and the other one in suction mode,
uses Natural Gas as fuel and is equipped with a self-regenerative without interchange of the operation mode, Also, the aerodynam-
burner. The composition of the fuel is shown in Table 1. The fur- ical behavior of the combustion process inside the furnace was
nace has a thermal input of 120 kW and a melting capacity of simulated. The properties and motion of the molten metal into
200 kg/h of aluminum. The crucible furnace is 1.0 m diameter the crucible was not taken into account.
and 1.2 m high. The crucible furnace is equipped with: The combustion space (combustion chamber) is annular be-
tween the outer wall of the crucible pot and the internal side of
 Two thermal regenerators composed of cordierite honeycomb the cast furnace, with a minimum and maximum width of 80
arrays, where the air to be preheated and the combustion prod- and 190 mm, respectively. A schematic view of how the burner
ucts pass through alternately. works during an operation cycle is shown in Fig. 2.
 Two fuel nozzles located in the middle of the rectangular air Two convergence criteria were used to determine the end of
nozzle at both sides of the burner. The preheated combustion every numerical simulation: the rst one was to obtain an asymp-
air ow that comes from the regenerator is mixed with the main totic behavior of continuity, momentum, energy and radiation
fuel ow at the combustion zone to form a diffusion ame. In residuals. The continuity and momentum residual reached a value
this system, the main fuel ow is injected axially and transver- in the order of 10 2 and energy and radiation residual reached a
sally into the air ow (Fig. 1). value in the order of 10 5. The second criterion was to check the
 Three air nozzles smaller than the main air nozzle are located mass and energy balance. In every simulation, the difference in
around that one. About 20% of combustion air enters into the the mass and energy balance were 3  10 5 kg/s and 0.4 kW,
combustion chamber through these nozzles. Two of the three respectively.
nozzles are located upside from the main air nozzle (Fig. 1). To study the aerodynamic behavior in the auto-regenerative
These nozzles help to stabilize the ame and to lower the NOx crucible furnace, the wall temperature prole and outlet emissions
formation through staging combustion [10]. were simulated, analyzed and compared with experimental data.
 A furnace with a crucible inside, where the melting process of Experimentally, the wall temperature has been measured using k
metal occurs as a result of the convection and radiation heat type thermocouples located ush to the wall. Species concentra-
transfer from the combustion products and the inner furnace tion on a dry basis at the outlet has been determined by means
walls to the pot. of a gas analyzer SICK MAIHAK S710, which measures CH4, CO2
and CO by Non-Dispersive Infra Red principle and O2 by the para-
During an operation cycle of 30 s, one burner works in combus- magnetic principle. NO concentration has been measured using the
tion mode with a long at ame which rounds up the crucible. chemiluminescence principle with a Thermo Environmental
Meanwhile, the burner on the opposite side works in the suction Instruments 42C Analyzer; every sample was collected at 80 C
mode in order to evacuate the hot combustion gases from the fur- with a simple tube probe and then it was cooled in a conditioning
nace. These hot gases heat up the ceramic honeycomb regenerator. unit, which removes dust and water from the sample.
In the following cycle, the burner which was acting in suction Three tests were conducted to quantify the uncertainty of the
mode works in ame mode. The combustion air enters in this bur- experimental measurements. These uncertainties are measured
ner and it is preheated with the heat accumulated in the ceramic with the standard deviation and they are reported as error bars
honeycomb during the last cycle. On the other hand, the burner in Figs. 58.
which worked in combustion mode in the last cycle starts to suck
the hot gases in the new cycle of 30 s. The interchange between
burners is performed during the entire the melting process. So, in 2.2. Meshing of the control volume

In Fig. 1 the mesh used for the crucible furnace and fuel injector
Table 1 is shown, as well the location of the boundary conditions is pre-
Composition of the fuel used in experimental conditions.
sented. Mesh near the air and fuel injection was rened with a
Component % volume smaller grid spacing in order to capture better the mixing between
Methane 97.76 the reactives in that zone. In this simulation 407,000 cells were
Ethane 0.38 used. In a subsequent simulation, a more rened mesh of
Propane 0.2 660,000 cells was used to nd out the error associated with grid
Nitrogen 1.29
spacing. This last rening was made in the zone near to the burner
Carbon dioxide 0.37
where the mixing and most reactions occur. In both meshes,
828 F. Cadavid et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 30 (2010) 826832

Fig. 1. Mesh and components of the auto-regenerative crucible furnace.

Fig. 2. Schematic view of the self-regenerative burner operation during a work cycle.

equi-angle skewness and aspect ratio were lower than 0.905 and
15, respectively. Although it is well known that a study of grid
dependence in a numerical simulation has established rules such
as three progressively ner meshes, a third mesh was not made be-
cause the complexity of the furnace geometry.
Fig. 3 shows a comparison of velocity proles for both grid spac-
ing (407,000 and 660,000 cells) in three reference lines or posi-
tions: one near of the injection nozzle, other near of the outlet
nozzle and other in the side opposed to the burner (reference lines
2, 3 and 4 in Fig. 4). It is important to note that these results are
obtained before performing a full simulation, i.e. without taking
into account the chemical reactions.
In the zone near to the fuel and air injection nozzles (at a fur-
nace height of 37 mm), the differences between velocities magni-
tudes, on reference line 2, obtained with the two meshes under Fig. 3. Comparison of velocity proles between rened and non-rened mesh of
analysis, was 31%. Even though this difference is not negligible, the crucible furnace along reference lines.
F. Cadavid et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 30 (2010) 826832 829

Fig. 7. CO concentration at the oulet.

Fig. 4. Path lines of the ow inside the crucible furnace.

Fig. 8. NO concentration at the oulet.

and air injection nozzles. Besides, it can be observed, in Fig. 3, that

all the curves show the same tendencies.
In the bottom of the reference line 2, there are several transi-
tions between high and low velocities as the reference line goes
through the fuel and air streams. This transition between maxi-
mum and minimum values of velocity is due to difference in the
momentum of the jets in the injection, i.e. the fuel jet has an axial
component of velocity which is larger than the air velocity. In the
Fig. 5. Wall Temperature prole on reference line 1 shown in Fig. 3. rest of the reference line 2 the velocity is approximately constant
and it has almost the same value for both grid spacing. Only in
the top of the furnace, a signicant difference in the tendency of
the velocity was found. The rened mesh shows that the velocity
falls down almost 73% in magnitude, and then it rises up and nal-
ly become zero in the wall. In the no-rened mesh, there is no
change in the tendency of the velocity and this only becomes zero
in the wall. However, those differences are not important because
in this zone there is not a signicant progress of the reactions.
In the reference lines 3 and 4, the velocity proles are very sim-
ilar for both grid spacing and no-signicant differences have been
found out. The grid spacing of 407,000 cells was chosen to develop
the numerical simulations because it consumes lower computation
time and it has the same tendency of velocity proles.
The CPU time required for each computation is about 120 h
using a Core 2 Quad, 2.4 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM memory using
a personal computer.

Fig. 6. CO2 y O2 concentration at the outlet.

2.3. Boundary conditions

as it was said before, a third mesh was not made because the com- Table 2 presents the boundary conditions used to perform the
plexities of the furnace geometry, mainly in the zone near the fuel numerical simulations and the experiments. In Table 2, the crucible
830 F. Cadavid et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 30 (2010) 826832

Table 2 ber of discrete solid angles, each associated with a vector direction
Boundary and initial conditions. xed in the global Cartesian system. During the simulation four
Boundary condition type Parameter Value vector directions were used [15]. The absorptivity of the gaseous
Air inlet Mass ow 0.0486 kg/s
medium was simulated with the Weighted Sum of Gas Grey Model
Preheating temperature 600 C (WGSSM), which considers water and carbon dioxide in the
NG injection Mass ow 0.0018 kg/s combustion products as grey gases in the radiation spectrum.
Temperature 30 C NO calculation has been made during the post-processing stage
Exhaust gases Pressure 15 mbar
of the simulation, using the Zeldovitch thermal NO formation
Crucible wall Temperature 750 C
Furnace external wall External convective heat 10 W/m2 K mechanism [16], and the Prompt NO formation proposed by Feni-
transfer coefcient more [17]. Here, only the production of NO is taken into account
External temperature 30 C because the NOx emitted to the atmosphere from combusting fuels
Equivalence ratio 0.63 consists mostly of NO, with much lower concentrations of NO2 and
N2O [18]. Zeldovich NO is evaluated by applying the quasi-steady
wall temperature has been assumed constant. This is because in state approximation for N species to the extended Zeldovich mech-
steady state, temperature of the melting metal has a constant va- anisms with the rate constants used by Blauwens et al. [19], Flower
lue, so it is reasonable to suppose that crucible wall has a constant et al. [20] and Monat et al. [21]. The O concentration required is gi-
temperature. The external convective heat transfer coefcient was ven by Westenbergs expression [22]. Prompt NO is predicted using
xed in 10 W/m2 K, which is representative for the heat exchange the models given by De Soete [23].
between outer furnace wall and a quiet surrounding.

2.4. Numerical models 3. Results and discussion

The combustion simulation process initiates by solving mass 3.1. Aerodynamic behavior
conservation, species, momentum, energy, ideal gas and chemical
kinetic reaction equations. A second order upwind scheme is em- Fig. 4 shows the uid motion inside the combustion chamber
ployed for the convection terms and a second order central-differ- using path lines colored by temperature. The air velocity in the
ence scheme for the diffusion terms of transport equations [11]. It main and the auxiliary inlets is 14 and 18 m/s, respectively. The
is important to establish that the focus of this paper is not to pres- Reynolds numbers for this ows are 16,237 and 9776, which indi-
ent a detailed description of the models used for numerical simu- cates conditions of turbulent ow. Accordingly, the election of a
lation, therefore detailed equations are not shown. Nevertheless, if turbulence model is adequate to simulate the aerodynamical
the reader wants to know more about the numerical models used behavior. On the other hand, the assumption of steady state in
in this work, we recommend FLUENT Users Guide [11] and the the numerical simulation is according with the conditions in which
book by Thierry Poinsot and Denis Veynante [12] for more details. the melting process is achieved. The unsteady state of the process
Numerical simulation was performed using the commercial exists mainly in the initial heating of the crucible and the internal
software, FLUENT V6.2, which uses the nite volume method to wall of the furnace. During the process of metal melting, a pseudo-
solve the integral form of the transport equations. For the solution steady state exists since the heat transfer rate to the load is
of the equations, a segregated method was used, which consist in constant.
solving the equations in a sequential mode for each iteration. The In Fig. 4, it can be observed that the uid particles are divided
process starts with the actualization of the nodal values of interest, into two streams, probably due to radial and tangential injection
then solves the momentum equations and veries the mass conti- from the fuel nozzle: a rst stream arises to the top of the furnace
nuity. If it is not veried, the pressure correction equation is solved and reacts while ascending. The largest temperature is in the bot-
by using the SIMPLE method until mass continuity equation is sat- tom and it decreases as the ue gas heat up the crucible. The other
ised [11]. Subsequently, energy, species and turbulence equations stream does not ascend, and it only reacts at the lowest region of
are solved. Finally, it is decided if the process can be nished or a the furnace. The latest is evidenced for a high temperature zone
new iteration has to be started by checking the convergence (around 1800 C) between inlet and outlet around the crucible at
criterion. the bottom of the furnace. This is not a good performance because
Two models has been employed to couple turbulence and kinet- two reasons: high temperature could deteriorate the material of
ics: A two steps and six species (CH4, O2, CO2, CO, H2O y N2) reac- the nozzles that inject air and gas in the burner side where ue
tion mechanism proposed by Westbrook and Dryer [13] was used gas evacuation is taking place; also, high temperature ue gases
to simulate the methane oxidation process with the Finite Rate/ cause an important decrease in furnace efciency. Fortunately,
Eddy Dissipation (FR/ED) model, which is a modication of the there is auto-regenerative heat recuperation to preheat air com-
model proposed by Magnussen and Hjertager to take into account bustion in experimental conditions, which improves considerably
chemical kinetic and turbulent mixing in the reaction [14]. The furnace efciency to values around 70%.
other model used was the PDF, which utilizes the mixture fraction It is important to notice that the ke RNG model predicts the
to calculate the species composition and temperature supposing uid motion as expected, i.e. when air is injected tangentially into
equilibrium mixing [11]. a large cylindrical chamber produces a swirl, which is known as a
To solve the component of the viscous stresses in the momen- cyclone combustion chamber [24]. The conguration of this fur-
tum equation, it was necessary to apply the ke RNG, which is use- nace generates two swirls, the rst one rising up until the top of
ful to simulate swirl ows [11]. The Reynold Average Navier-Stokes the furnace and the second one going down reaching the outlet.
(RANS) model was preferred over the LES model because RANS In Fig. 4 it can be seen that the hottest uid particles rise up near
model is more used in numerical simulation in combustion devices the external wall of the combustion chamber, while the coldest
of industrial scale, like the furnace studied in this work. Also, RANS ones go down near the crucible external wall. This orderly behavior
is faster than LES to do calculations and needs a less dense mesh- was unexpected and we are still trying to explain it. Unfortunately,
ing, so computational cost of the numerical simulations is lower. there is not experimental evidence of this phenomenon since none
Radiation is simulated with the Discrete Ordinates (OD) method, optical instrument was available to study the reaction zone and the
which solves the Radiative Transfer Equation (RTE) for a nite num- uidynamic proles.
F. Cadavid et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 30 (2010) 826832 831

One of the most important characteristics was to obtain a long, was accordingly with the experimental data. Nonetheless, Figs. 7
at and high ame in order to cover a large crucible surface for and 8 show a very important difference of CO and NO prediction
enhancing the heat transfer to the load. The best ame shape ob- between the two combustion models.
tained in this study was using air nozzles with vertical inclination. Considering that FR/ED model takes into account a reacting ow
In turn, radial injection of the fuel helps to make a wider ame in governed by the largest reaction rate between Arrhenius and tur-
vertical direction, while axial injection favors a larger ame that bulent mixing, the better prediction of this model implies that
surrounds the crucible. reactions inside the furnace occur in a ow where, in spite of the
Concerning pressure drops between inlet and outlet is in the or- high turbulence, the chemical kinetic is low. This can be explained
der of 22 mbar. This pressure drop is low and easily satised by a because the high dilution of the reactant mixture with ue gases,
commercial blower of 7 HP, which supplies air for combustion and which slow down the Arrhenius rate due to the addition of inert
for the ejection system. gases like N2, CO2 and H2O. The dilution is a consequence of the
swirl ow around the crucible, which favors high recirculation ra-
3.2. Thermal and chemical behavior tios. On the other hand, dilution diminishes local temperature
peaks and decrease thermal NOx formation by Zeldovitch mecha-
Heat transfer in the furnace has been characterized with nism [16]. This process is similar to exhaust gas recirculation
numerical simulation. According to the numerical data, there is a (EGR).
radiation exchange between the furnace wall and the crucible wall. The temperature and CO overprediction of the PDF model is
The radiation ux to crucible wall is around 58.2 kW/m2. Also, the probably due to the lack of this model to take into account the con-
convective heat transfer to furnace wall is around 2.1 kW/m2. Com- tribution of chemical kinetic to the reaction. This model assumes
paring these values taken from the simulation, it is clear that radi- that turbulent mixing is the controlling stage of the reactions
ation is the dominant heat transfer mechanism toward the load in and calculates the equilibrium composition and temperature of
the crucible. the mixture fraction. Due to inert dilution, the reacting ow is
On the other hand, numerical simulation results show a consid- far from the equilibrium, so reacting ow temperature is lower
erable difference in the thermal and chemical behavior between than the equilibrium one. Respect to CO overprediction, it seems
the two combustion models used. In Fig. 5, the inner wall furnace like PDF model consider a rich reactive mixture, mainly in the low-
temperature prole along the reference line 1 can be seen (see est zone of the furnace. If only turbulent mixing reaction rate is
Fig. 4), while Table 3 shows numerical and experimental species considered, the concentration of CO is high everywhere mixture
concentration at the outlet. The wall temperature prole has been fraction correspond to a rich fuel mixture. This does not occur with
taken in the opposite side of the burner, where the combustion the FR/ED model since it also considers the Arrhenius reaction rate.
reactions were expected to be almost complete. Variability of every Similarly, NO prediction with FR/ED model was better than PDF
furnace wall temperature was approximately 68 C around the (Fig. 8), although the predicted value was almost ve times larger
average temperature shown in Fig. 5. This variability is due to tem- than the experimental one. The overprediction of PDF model in this
poral change in the ue gases temperature between the start and case, is due mainly to the higher temperature and its consequent
the end of every operation cycle. Nevertheless, this variability rep- NO formation by the thermal mechanism. Here is important to
resents only 6% of the average temperature on the furnace wall. emphasize the low NO concentration in experimental conditions,
The uncertainty associated with the measurements that were car- which is lower than 100 ppm. This supports the hypothesis of
ried out with thermocouples was around 5 C, i.e., 0.4% of the aver- the establishment of an EGR behavior in the furnace, which is char-
age temperature on the furnace wall. acterized precisely for low NO emissions.
Fig. 5 shows that temperature prediction with model FR/ED is
closer to the experimental results than the data obtained with
the PDF model. Nevertheless, FR/ED underestimates the tempera- 4. Conclusions
ture in every point, which can be due to the tendency of FR/ED
to minimize both the turbulence and the kinetic rate. Also, as the From the numerical simulation and comparison with experi-
default constants of the FR/ED mode were used, they may not be mental data of a gas-red self-regenerative crucible furnace using
not be suitable for the reactions when the reactants are diluted two different combustion models it can be concluded:
with combustion products. On the other hand, the PDF model over-
predicts the temperature more than 500 C. However, despite of  The ke RNG model predicts the uid motion as expected. The
the differences between ame and ue gases temperature around conguration of this furnace generates two swirls. The rst
500 C, both numerical and experimental wall temperature proles one, composed of the hottest gases, which rises up near the
are very uniform, with temperature gradient smaller than 150 C. external wall of the combustion chamber, while the second
This is a good characteristic because it contributes to an uniform one, composed of the coldest gases, goes down near the crucible
heating and casting of the load inside the crucible. external wall.
Fig. 6 shows that CO2 prediction of FR/ED model is more  According to the numerical simulation, radiation is the main
approximate to experimental value than the PDF prediction, and heat transfer mechanism toward the load in the crucible, and
both of predicted values are in standard deviation interval of the it exceeds too much the convection. Numerical calculations
experimental data. Respect to O2, the prediction with both models show that radiative heat ux is larger than convective one.
 The swirl ow originates high recirculation of ue gases into the
reaction zone (EGR). This causes a decreasing of the chemical
Table 3 kinetic, and Arrhenius rate becomes signicant in the reaction
Numerical and experimental emissions at the furnace outlet.
control. The temperature and species prediction with FR/ED
Species FR/ED Experimental PDF model were more approximate to the experimental data. This
CO2 (% dry) 7.84% 7.47 0.87% 6.62% better prediction is probably due to the capacity of the FR/ED
O2 (% dry) 6.84% 7.68 1.48% 7.64% model to take into account the Arrhenius and turbulent mixing
CO (ppm dry) 261 212 167 10 636 rates to control reaction progress. PDF model overpredicts the
NO (ppm dry, 3% O2) 457 95 2016
temperature and CO emissions because it only considers turbu-
CH4 (% dry) 0.27% 0.00 0.00% 0.00%
lent mixing as the govern stage of the reaction.
832 F. Cadavid et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 30 (2010) 826832

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