Chemical Engineering Science, Vol.61, No.17, 5841-5855, 2006
Numerical simulation and experimental study of emulsification in a narrow-gap homogenizer
The present experimental and theoretical study investigates the fragmentation of the oil phase in an emulsion on its passage through a high-pressure, axial-flow homogenizer. The considered homogenizer contains narrow annular gap(s), whereupon the initially coarse oil drops break into fine droplets. The experiments were carried out using either a facility with one or two successive gaps, varying the flow rate and the material properties of the dispersed phase. The measured drop size distributions in the final emulsion clearly illustrated that the flow rate, as well as the dispersed-phase viscosity, and the interfacial tension can significantly affect the drop size after emulsification. The larger mean and maximum drop diameters obtained for the homogenizer with one gap in comparison to those obtained with two gaps (at the same Reynolds number and material parameters of the emulsion phases), highlighted the strong relevance of the flow geometry to the emulsification process. The numerical simulation of the carrier phase flow fields evolving in the investigated homogenizer was proven to be a very reliable method for providing appropriate input to theoretical models for the maximum drop size. The predictions of the applied droplet breakup model using input values from the numerical simulations showed very good agreement with the experimental data. In particular, the effect of the flow geometry-one-gap versus two-gaps design-was captured very well. This effect associated with the geometry is missed completely when using instead the frequently adopted concept of estimating input values from very gross correlations. It was shown that applying such a mainly bulk flow dependent estimate correlation makes the drop size predictions insensitive to the observed difference between the one-gap and the two-gaps cases. This obvious deficit, as well the higher accuracy, strongly favors the present method relying on the numerical simulation of the carrier phase flow. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.