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PAMM · Proc. Appl. Math. Mech. 11, 27 – 30 (2011) / DOI 10.1002/pamm.


Loss Coefficients in Laminar Flows: Essential for the Design of Micro

Flow Systems
Bastian Schmandt1,∗ and Heinz Herwig1
Institute of Thermo-Fluid Dynamics, TU Hamburg-Harburg, Denickestr. 17, 21073 Hamburg/Germany

The concept of head loss coefficients K for the determination of losses in conduit components is discussed in detail. While
so far it has mainly been applied to fully turbulent flows it is extended here to also cover the laminar flow regime which is
relevant for micro systems due to the low Reynolds numbers of these flows. Specific numbers of K can be determined by
integration of the entropy generation field (second law analysis) obtained from a numerical simulation. It will be shown that
a definition of K based on entropy generation is superior to a widely used definition that refers to a pressure drop caused by
the conduit component. With the second law analysis details of the physics become available. For example it can be shown
that often the main part of the entropy generation occurs downstream of the component. This aspect becomes important when
several conduit components are combined in close proximity, like two 90 degree bends that are close to each other. Often in
such situations the combination as a whole has to be looked upon as one new complex component. The general approach is
discussed and illustrated for various conduit components and combinations of them.
c 2011 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

1 Introduction
Quite often losses in fluid systems are accounted for using loss coefficients K. This one-dimensional approach stems from
experiments in turbulent flow and is based on the experience that K is a constant value at high Reynolds numbers. Standard
components for which K-values can be found in data collections like [1] and [2] are bends, diffusors and tri-junctions, for
example. The often used definition of K based on the pressure difference ∆p is

K= (1)

and is strictly valid only, when the kinetic and potential energies in both cross sections from which ∆p is obtained are identical.
In a more general definition, which we prefer, K is based on the specific dissipation rate ϕ

K= (2)

This formulation requires the mechanical energy equation

u2m1 p1 u2 p2
α1 + + gy1 = α2 m2 + + gy2 + ϕ12 (3)
2 % 2 %

which is rearranged to obtain ϕ between the two cross sections 1 and 2. Here the non-dimensional factors αi correct the
kinetic energies based on the cross section averaged velocities. Only for α1 u2m1 = α2 u2m2 and y1 = y2 equation (1) can be
used. In most cases the determination of αi is hardly possible in experiments using simple measurement equipment so that
it is common practice to approximate the kinetic energy using αi = 1. The value for K obtained then might be useful for
the calculation of pressures at certain stages of a system but is not suited to quantify losses, especially in laminar flows with
αi > 1. However, the greates shortcoming of the ∆p based method is that it is not possible to see how losses are distributed
within a conduit component and its upstream and downstream channel tangents. How this information can be provided will be
shown in the following section. In section 3 the K-value definition is applied to laminar flows. K-values from CFD simulations
for bends and their combinations will be given in section 4. For more details with respect to our approach see for example [3]
or [4].

∗ Corresponding author: email, phone +49 40 42878 3268, fax +49 40 42878 2967

c 2011 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

28 Minisymposia Mechanics 1: Microflows

2 Definition of a Loss Coefficient K Based on Entropy Generation

Instead of computing ϕ in (2) from an indirect method using (3) it can be determined from the field of local entropy generation
rates ṠD
obtained from a CFD simulation. As a special benefit of this method it is easy to see where the losses occur in the
flowfield. The entropy generation field in cartesian coordinates reads

" 2  2  2 #  2  2  2 !
µ ∂u ∂v ∂w ∂u ∂v ∂u ∂w ∂v ∂w
ṠD000 = 2 + + + + + + + + (4)
T ∂x ∂y ∂z ∂y ∂x ∂z ∂x ∂z ∂y

According to the theorem of Gouy and Stodola the specific dissipation rate ϕ for internal flows with T∞ as the ambient
temperature is

T∞ ṠD T∞   
ϕ= = ṠDVu − ṠDVu◦ + ṠDVc + ṠDVd − ṠDVd◦ (5)
ṁ ṁ | {z } |{z} | {z }
∆ϕu ϕc ∆ϕd

Here ṠD is the entropy generation rate induced by the component, i.e. the entropy generation rate inside the component
plus the additional rates in the upstream and downstream channels. Thus ϕ has three parts: ∆ϕu (additional losses upstream
of the component),
R 000 ϕc (losses inside the component), and ∆ϕd (additional losses downstream of the component). With
ṠD = ṠD dV as the integral entropy generation rate, ϕ can be obtained as the sum of its three parts ∆ϕu , ϕc and ∆ϕd
when also the entropy generation rates ṠDVu◦ and ṠDVd◦ for the undisturbed flow are known in the upstream and downstream
section, respectively
Together with Vc , i.e. the volume inside the component the up- and downstream volumes have to be chosen large enough
to contain all additional losses within the desired accuracy. In order to specify up- and downstream lengths of impact, Lu and
Ld are introduced, which include 95 % of the additional losses upstream and downstream, respectively. This is illustrated in
Figure 1 where the physical lengths of the upstream and downstream channels in the computational domain are sufficiently
large, i.e.  Lu and  Ld .

upstream channel downstream channel

Lu : conduit Ld :
95% of ∆ϕu component 95% of ∆ϕd

Fig. 1 Upstream and downstream characteristic lengths of im-

ϕ = ∆ϕu + ϕc + ∆ϕd

For a certain component of interest, values of K, Lu , Ld als well as ∆ϕu /ϕ, ϕc /ϕ, and ∆ϕd /ϕ can be computed and
collected in a component specific table as a function of the Reynolds number, see section 4.

3 K-Values in Laminar Flows

Since K represents the specific dissipation rate ϕ nondimensionalized with the specicifc kinetic energy based on um , see (2),
K ∝ Ren−2 holds when ϕ ∝ unm is assumed. For the special case of a laminar and fully developed flow ϕ ∝ um , i.e. n = 1,
and thus K ∝ Re−1 follows from Poiseuilles Law when a channel is treated as a conduit component. For the simple case
of a pressure driven flow in a straight channel along the x-direction this follows from (4). Then µ/T (∂u/∂y)2 is the only
non zero term. It increases quadratically with um due to the parabolic flow profile with ∂u/∂y|y=const ∝ um and thus yields
K ∝ Re−1 .
The K ∝ Re−1 behaviour also holds for creeping flows, which occur in micro flow systems at very low Reynolds numbers
(Re → 0), even if the flow is not fully developed. Since then inertia forces are again absent with ϕ ∝ um and K ∝ Re−1 as a
For higher Reynolds numbers (Re → ∞) inertia forces dominate the belance and thus ϕ ∝ u2m and K = const holds.
Both asymptotic behaviours can be used for an ansatz with respect to K = K(Re). Following the idea of Churchill and
Usagi [5], a blending parameter n can be introduced so that with K = C1 for Re → ∞ and K = C2 /Re for Re → 0 we

K = [C1n + (C2 /Re)n ]1/n (6)

The three constants C1 , C2 and n can be found from simulation results for discrete values of K and Re.
c 2011 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
PAMM · Proc. Appl. Math. Mech. 11 (2011) 29

4 CFD Examples
In this section results for a single 90◦ bend with a square cross section, see figure 2, and three double bend combinations,
see figure 4, are given. The combinations are an S-shaped planar combination, a U-shaped planar combination, and a spatial
90◦ /90◦ combination. K-values for the double bend combinations are compared to those of the single bend, to see how far
individually determined losses can be used to predict the losses of a complex system consisting of several single components.
LVu = 5Dh


r = Dh

10 0 1 2 3
10 10 10 10
LVd = 35Dh

Fig. 2 Geometry and grid for the 90 deg square Fig. 3 K-values of the 90 deg square
cross section bend cross section bend; ∗: numerical results,
line: fit according to (6)

0◦ double bend 180◦ double bend 90◦ /90◦ double bend

  1   1   1
K0◦ = 2.971.79 + ( 176.86
Re )
1.79 1.79
K180◦ = 1.921.13 + ( 167.48
Re )
1.13 1.13
K90◦ /90◦ = 2.53751.22 + ( 165.58
Re )
1.22 1.22

Fig. 4 Geometry and numerical results for double bend combinations without spacer

The velocity field for all cases is computed for a laminar incompressible flow in a Reynolds number range between 4 and
512 using OpenFOAM. The standard solver application simpleFoam was modified to compute the entropy generation field.
The integral value of this field was used as a convergence criterion. Calculations were stopped, when the relative difference of
two succesive values Ṡ was smaller than 1e-6.
K-values for the single bend are displayed in figure 3 together with the ansatz (6) for which the coefficients C1 = 2.20,
C2 = 88.98 and n = 2.19 are found. Values for Lu , Ld als well as ∆ϕu /ϕ, ϕc /ϕ, and ∆ϕd /ϕ are shown in table 1. In order
to show, how the losses are distributed along the centerline of the bend, it is necessary to compute the cross section averaged
entropy generation rates ṠD0
. This is done by an integration of ṠD
over the volume from the inlet tangent to a cutting plane at
a variable location sc on the centerline adjusted to the grid layers leading to Ṡ(sc ). Nondimensionalized with the values ṠD 0◦

for fully developed flow it is displayed in figure 5 for the Reynolds numbers 0, 4 and 512. Results for Re = 0 are obtained
when the convective terms in the momentum equations are deleted in the source code of the solver application and an inflow
boundary condition according to a laminar developed profile with an arbitrary value um is set. Since Re = 0 is an artificial
situation not corresponding to a finite value for um , it is not possible to compute a K-value for this case. Yet, it is convenient
to show the symmetry of the flow field resulting in a symmetric distribution of losses for a symmetric component at low values

Table 1 Numerical results for the 90 deg square cross section Table 2 K-value comparison of the bend combinations with
bend twice the value of the single bend
Re ∆ϕu /ϕ ϕc /ϕ ∆ϕd /ϕ Lu /Dh Ld /Dh K
Re 2 × 90◦ bend 0◦ double b. 180◦ double b. 90◦ /90◦ double b.
4 0.0045 0.9954 0.0001 0.3320 0.0779 22.19 4 44.38 43.76 43.76 43.51
8 0.0066 0.9913 0.0022 0.4048 0.4347 11.25 8 22.50 22.20 22.14 22.05
16 0.0097 0.9727 0.0176 0.4505 0.9091 5.91 16 11.82 11.67 11.57 11.59
32 0.0127 0.8985 0.0888 0.5183 1.3720 3.46 32 6.93 6.71 6.63 6.76
64 0.0130 0.7262 0.2609 0.5724 2.1634 2.53 64 4.51 4.35 4.31 4.60
128 0.0104 0.5367 0.4529 0.6147 3.4676 2.26 128 4.53 3.15 3.06 3.53
256 0.0077 0.4029 0.5894 1.0797 8.3494 2.17 256 4.34 3.06 2.31 2.90
512 0.0040 0.2859 0.7101 0.3791 15.1179 2.27 512 4.54 3.18 2.20 2.68 c 2011 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

30 Minisymposia Mechanics 1: Microflows

of Re. For higher values of Re most of the entropy generation takes place in the downstream section, e.g. 71% for Re=512.
The area below the ṠD 0 0◦
/ṠD -line is colored with dark gray for the losses in the component and light gray for the additional
losses upstream and downstream. The upstream and downstream losses are additional losses compared to the developed flow.
Therefore the light shaded areas are above ṠD 0 0◦
/ṠD = 1 only. In sc /Dh direction they are only shown up to Lu and Ld , see
table 1 for these values.

Re = 0 Re = 4 Re = 512

Fig. 5 Distribution of entropy generation along the bend in streamwise direction; additional losses are shown up to Lu and Ld only

In table 2 K-values for the combinations are compared to twice the values of the single component to investigate if these
systems can be described using the values of their basic parts determined individually. It turns out that this is the case as long
as the Reynolds number is below 64. For larger Reynolds numbers the sum of both values may be taken if the length of a
spacer between both components is larger than the sum of their upstream and downstream lengths Lu and Ld . In figures 6 and
7 K-values normalized with 2 × K90 are displayed for variable distances ls at Re = 512. With a spacer length ls > Lu + Ld
the error then is about 10 %.
1 1

0.9 0.9

0.8 0.8


0.7 0.7

0.6 0.6

0.5 0.5

0 5 10 15 20 25 0 5 10 15 20 25
ls /Dh ls /Dh
Fig. 6 K-values normalized with 2×K90 for the Fig. 7 K-values normalized with 2×K90 for the
S-shaped combination; Re = 512 U-shaped combination; Re = 512
gray: ls ≥ Lu + Ld gray: ls ≥ Lu + Ld

5 Conclusion and Outlook

In this paper it was shown how K-values for conduit components can be computed using the entropy generation field in laminar
flows. Likewise it was possible to analyze the distribution of losses within the component and its upstream and downstream
channel tangents. Finally, the effect of a component on the flow field in terms of upstream and downstream lengths of impact
was determined. All values were obtained from a numerical simulation. Since measurements in laminar flow are rarely
available and often contradictive, measurements will be performed at the Institute of Thermo-Fluid Dynamics in order to
validate this computational approach.

[1] D. S. Miller, Internal flow systems, 2nd ed. (BHRA, 1978, reprinted 1990).
[2] I. Idelchik, Handbook of Hydraulic Resistance (Hemisphere Publ. Corp., New York, 1986).
[3] H. Herwig, B. Schmandt, and M. Uth, Loss coefficients in laminar flows: Indispensable for the design of micro flow systems, in:
Proceedings of the 3rd Joint US-European Fluids Engineering Summer Meeting and 8th International Conference on Nanochannels,
Microchannels and Minichannels, ICNMM2010-30166 (Montreal, August 2010).
[4] B. Schmandt and H. Herwig, Internal flow losses: A fresh look at old concepts, accepted for publication in ASME Journal of Fluids
Engineering (2011).
[5] S. W. Churchill and R. Usagi, A standardized procedure for the production of correlations in the form of a common empirical equation,
Ind. Eng. Chem. Fundamen. 13, 39–44 (1974).

c 2011 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim