The external loop airlift reactor (ELALR) is a modified bubble column reactor that is composed of two vertical columns that are interconnected with two horizontal tubes and is often preferred over traditional bubble column reactors because they can operate over a wider range of conditions. In the present work, the gas-liquid flow dynamics in an ELALR was simulated using an Eulerian–Eulerian ensemble-averaging method in two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) coordinate systems. The computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations were compared to experimental measurements from a 10.2 cm diameter ELALR for superficial gas velocities ranging from 1 cm/s to 20 cm/s. The effect of specifying a mean bubble diameter to represent the gas phase in the CFD modeling was investigated, and 2D and 3D simulations were found to be in good agreement with the experimental data. The ELALR flow regimes were compared for the reactor operating in bubble column, closed vent, and open vent modes, and the 2D simulations qualitatively predicted the behavior of bubble growth in the downcomer. However, it was found that 3D simulations were necessary to capture the physics of the ELALR for gas holdup, bulk density differences, and riser superficial liquid velocity.

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