Date of Award:

2013

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Advisor/Chair:

Byard Wood

Abstract

Open channel raceway bioreactors are a low-cost system used to grow algae for biofuel production. Microalgae have many promises when it comes to renewable energy applications, but many economic hurdles must be overcome to achieve an economic fuel source that is competitive with petroleum-based fuels. One way to make algae more competitive is to improve vertical mixing in algae raceway bioreactors. Previous studies show that mixing may be increased by the addition of mechanisms such as airfoils. The circulation created helps move the algae from the bottom to top surface for necessary photosynthetic exchange. This improvement in light utilization allowed a certain study to achieve 2.2-2.4 times the amount of biomass relative to bioreactors without airfoils. This idea of increasing mixing in open channel raceways has been the focus of the Utah State University (USU) raceway hydraulics group. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), Acoustic Doppler Velocimetry (ADV), and Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) are all methods used at USU to computationally and experimentally quantify mixing in an open channel raceway. They have also been used to observe the effects of using delta wings (DW) in increasing vertical mixing in the raceway. These efforts showed great potential in the DW in increasing vertical mixing in the open channel bioreactor. However, this research begged the question, does the DW help increase algae growth? Three algae growth experiments comparing growth in a raceway with and without DW were completed. These experiments were successful, yielding an average 27.1% increase in the biomass. The DW appears to be a promising method of increasing algae biomass production. The next important step was to quantify vertical mixing and understand flow patterns due to two DWs side-by-side. Raceway channels are wider as they increase in size; and arrays of DWs will need to be installed to achieve quality mixing throughout the bioreactor. Quality mixing was attained for several paddle wheel (PW) speeds. Also, an optimal spacing between the DWs in an array was found to be the width of the DW. This optimal spacing allows for the best increase in vertical mixing along the width of the channel. Dimensional analysis was performed using experimental data to estimate vertical mixing index (VMI) results for data obtained by larger scale DW experiments. This rough analysis showed that the VMI may be estimated from small to large scale within 26.6% and 26.5% when equating Reynolds and Froude numbers, respectively. These results suggest that quality mixing would still be present at a larger DW scale.

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