Faculty Advisor

Prof. Dr. Ravindra Datta

Faculty Advisor

Prof. Dr. Anthony G. Dixon

Faculty Advisor

Dr. E. Hugh Stitt


Fixed bed reactors are an essential part of the chemical industry as they are used in a wide variety of chemical processes. To better model these systems a more fundamental understanding of the processes taking place in a fixed bed is required. Fixed bed models are traditionally based on high tube-to particle diameter ratio (N) beds, where temperature and flow profile gradients are mild and can be averaged. Low-N beds are used in extremely exo- and endothermic processes on the tube side of tube and shell type reactors. In these beds, heat transfer is one of the most important aspects. The importance of accurate modeling of heat transfer and its dependence on accurate modeling of the flow features leads to the need for studying the phenomena in these low-N beds in detail. In this work a comparative study is made of the influence of spherical and cylindrical packing particle shapes, positions and orientations on the rates of heat transfer in the near-wall region in a steam reforming application. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is used as a tool for obtaining the detailed flow and temperature information in a low-N fixed bed. CFD simulation geometries of discrete particle packed beds are designed and methods for data extraction and analysis are developed. After conceptual and quantitative analysis of the simulation data it is found that few clear relations between the complex phenomena of flow and heat transfer can be easily identified. Investigated features are the orientations of the particle in the flow, and many design parameters, such as the number and size of longitudinal holes in the particle and external features on the particle. We find that many of the investigated features are related and their individual influences could not be isolated in this study. Some of the related features are, for example, the number of holes in the particle design and the particle orientation in the flow. Some general conclusions could be drawn. External features on the particles enhance the overall heat transfer properties by better mixing of the flow field. When holes are present in the cylindrical particle design, heat transfer effectiveness can be improved with fewer larger holes. After identifying the packing-related features influencing the near-wall heat transfer under steam reforming conditions, an attempt was made to incorporate the steam reforming reaction in the simulation. In the initial attempts the reaction was modeled as an energy flux at the catalyst particle surfaces. This approach was based on the abilities of the CFD code, but turned out not accurate enough. Elimination of the effects of local reactant depletion and the lack of solid energy conduction in the catalyst particles resulted in an unphysical temperature field. Several suggestions, based on the results of this study, are made for additional aspects of particle design to be investigated. Additionally, suggestions are made on how to incorporate the modeling of a reaction in fixed bed heat transfer simulations.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Chemical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





steam reforming, heat transfer, flow, fixed bed, CFD