Cooling tower inlet losses are the flow losses or viscous dissipation of mechanical energy affected directly by the cooling tower inlet design, which according to the counterflow natural draft wet-cooling tower performance analysis example given in Kröger (Kröger, 2004, Air-Cooled Heat Exchangers and Cooling Towers: Thermal-Flow Performance Evaluation, Pennwell Corp., Tulsa, OK), can be more than 20% of the total cooling tower flow losses. Flow separation at the lower edge of the shell results in a vena contracta with a distorted inlet velocity distribution that causes a reduction in effective fill or heat exchanger flow area. In this paper, a two-dimensional (axi-symmetric) computational fluid dynamic (CFD) model is developed using the commercial CFD code ANSYS FLUENT, to simulate the flow patterns, loss coefficients and effective flow diameter of circular natural draft cooling tower inlets under windless conditions. The CFD results are compared with axial velocity profile data, tower inlet loss coefficients and effective diameters determined experimentally by Terblanche (Terblanche, 1993, “Inlaatverliese by Koeltorings,” M. Sc. Eng. thesis, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa) on a cylindrical scale sector model as well as applicable empirical relations found in Kröger, determined using the same experimental apparatus as Terblanche. The validated CFD model is used to investigate the effects of Reynolds number, shell-wall thickness, shell wall inclination angle, fill loss coefficient, fill type, inlet diameter to inlet height ratio and inlet geometry on the flow patterns, inlet loss coefficient and effective diameter of full-scale cooling towers. Ultimately, simple correlations are proposed for determining the cooling tower inlet loss coefficient and inlet effective flow diameter ratio of full-scale cooling towers excluding the effect of rain zones and the structural supports around the cooling tower entrance.

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