Computational fluid dynamic modelling of an electric smelting furnace in the platinum recovery process

Bezuidenhout, Johan Jacobus (2008-12)

Thesis (MScEng (Process Engineering))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


The electric smelting furnace is found at the heart of the platinum recovery process where the power input from the electrodes produces a complex interplay between heat transfer and fluid flow. A fundamental knowledge of the dynamic system hosted by the electric furnace is valuable for maintaining stable and optimum operation. However, describing the character of the system hosted by the electric furnace poses great difficulty due to its aggressive environment. A full-scale threedimensional Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) model was therefore developed for the circular, three-electrode Lonmin smelting furnace. The model was solved as time dependent to incorporate the effect of the three-phase AC current, which was supplied by means of volume sources representing the electrodes. The slag and matte layers were both modelled as fluid continuums in contact with each other through a dynamic interface made possible by the Volume of Fluid (VOF) multi-phase model. CO-gas bubbles forming at electrode surfaces and interacting with the surrounding fluid slag were modelled through the Discrete Phase Model (DPM). To account for the effect of concentrate melting, distinctive smelting zones were identified within the concentrate as assigned a portion of the melting heat based on the assumption of a radially decreasing smelting rate from the centre of the furnace. The tapping of slag and matte was neglected in the current modelling approach but compensation was made for the heating-up of descending material by means of an energy sink based on enthalpy differences. Model cases with and without CO-gas bubbles were investigated as well as the incorporation of a third phase between the slag and matte for representing the ‘mushy’ chromite/highly viscous slag commonly found in this region. These models were allowed to iterate until steady state conditions has been achieved, which for most of the cases involved several weeks of simulation time. The results that were obtained provided good insight into the electrical, heat and flow behaviour present within the molten bath. The current density profiles showed a large portion of the current to flow via the matte layer between the electrodes. Distributions for the electric potential and Joule heat within the melt was also developed and showed the highest power to be generated within the immediate vicinity of the electrodes and 98% of the resistive heat to be generated within the slag. Heat was found to be uniformly distributed due the slag layer being well mixed. The CO-gas bubbles was shown to be an important contributor to flow within the slag, resulting in a order of magnitude difference in average flow magnitude compared to the case where only natural buoyancy is at play. The highest flow activity was observed halfway between electrodes where the flow streams from the electrodes meet. Consequently, the highest temperatures are also observed in these regions. The temperature distribution within the matte and concentrate layers can be characterized as stratified. Low flow regions were identified within the matte and bottom slag layer which is where chromite and magnitite deposits are prone to accumulate. The model results were partially validated through good agreement to published results where actual measurements were done while also falling within the typical operating range for the actual furnace. The modelling of the electric furnace has been valuably furthered, however for complete confidence in the model results, further validation is strongly recommended.

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