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Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen

production in a pilot stirred tank reactor: CFD
simulation and experimental studies
~ o-Navarro a, I. Chairez a, L. Torres-Bustillos a, J. Ramrez-Mun
~ oz c,
C. Nin
E. Salgado-Manjarrez , E.I. Garcia-Pen
Bioprocesses Department, Unidad Profesional Interdisciplinaria de Biotecnologa, Instituto Politecnico Nacional,
P.O. Box 07340, Mexico City, Mexico
Bioengineering Department, Unidad Profesional Interdisciplinaria de Biotecnologa, Instituto Politecnico Nacional,
P.O. Box 07340, Mexico City, Mexico
Energy Department, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana-Azcapotzalco, Av. San Pablo 180, Azcapotzalco,
P.O. Box 02200, Mexico City, Mexico

article info


Article history:

The effect of the flux patterns promoted by a reactor's impeller distribution on the bio-

Received 5 April 2016

logical hydrogen (bioH2) production by a microbial consortium was determined. The flux

Received in revised form

patterns were analyzed and characterized by the application of computational fluid dy-

10 June 2016

namics (CFD, ANSYSS Fluent 14.5). Two different mixing systems; predominantly axial

Accepted 25 June 2016

(pitched blade PB4) or radial flow (Rushton) impellers were evaluated. Based on CFD results,

Available online xxx

four different impeller configurations were experimentally assessed to produce bioH2. The


configuration. In the second-best configuration, also obtained with the PB4, a bioH2 pro-


ductivity of 407.94 mL/Lh was measured. The configurations based on Rushton impellers

highest bioH2 productivity of 440 mL/Lh was determined with PB4 impellers, under the best

Hydrogen production

showed lower bioH2 productivity (177.065 mL/Lh average). Therefore, the experiments

Computer fluid dynamics

where the axial pumping was favored showed the highest bioH2 production as a conse-

Pitched blade turbine

quence of the enhanced transfer of the bioH2 from the liquid phase to the reactor

Rushton turbine

2016 Hydrogen Energy Publications LLC. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

The indiscriminate use of fossil fuels has continued to such an
extent that it has not only polluted the environment but also
exhausted the limited fuel reserves. This practice has generated the necessity to develop different alternative clean energy sources [8].

Hydrogen (H2) is the most promising fuel for the near

future. As opposed to other alternative sources of energy, H2
does not contribute to environmental pollution because its
combustion produces only steam, water and heat [24]. Additionally, H2 has the highest energy ratio per weight unit
(142 kJ/g) compared to other known fuels [37].
The production methods of H2 are broadly classified into
three major categories: thermochemical, electrochemical and

* Corresponding author. Fax: 52 5557 296000x56305.

~ a).
E-mail address: (E.I. Garcia-Pen
0360-3199/ 2016 Hydrogen Energy Publications LLC. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

biological [7]. The chemical processes are very expensive [10].

Biological methods are cheaper, and they present some advantages such as the reduction of organic solid waste and
wastewater, which could be used as substrates [13,15,21]. In
biological methods, under anaerobic conditions and the
absence of light (dark fermentation), biological H2 (bioH2) is
produced as a by-product during the conversion of organic
wastes into organic acids [21]. Dark fermentation seems to be
the most favorable bioprocess for bioH2 production. This
process consists of converting simple sugars or disaccharides
to bioH2, carbon dioxide (CO2) and organic acids [38]. Beside
dark fermentation, Microbial Electrolysis Cell (MEC) has been
applied recently for the valorization of organic waste with
hydrogen (H2) production. This process is a kind of Bioelectrochemical System (BES) [35].
BioH2 production by dark fermentation has attracted
attention for industrial-scale implementation because of its
flexibility, simple reactor design, and capability of degrading
wastes that are difficult to break down by other processes [38].
However, the efficient production of bioH2 depends on many
factors including the microbial community, substrate
composition and operating conditions [2]. The fermentation
can be carried out at higher rates and lower costs using
various organic substrates and wastewaters [3].
Different microorganisms can be used as an inoculum in
dark fermentation. Heterotrophic bacteria are considered the
most efficient bioH2 producers. This group of bacteria includes strict anaerobes (such as Clostridia and thermophiles),
facultative anaerobes (such as Enterobacter) and full aerobes
(for example, Alcaligenes and Bacillus) [6,15,17]. Depending on
the microorganisms in the system and the substrate nature,
the bioH2 production is generally achieved by one of two
pathways (in the presence of specific coenzymes): 1) the formic acid decomposition route or 2) the re-oxidization of
nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) route (1e2). This
last pathway is regulated by the hydrogen partial pressure
(pH2) in the system, and the hydrogenase activity is also
controlled by this parameter.
NADH H 2Fd2 /2H NAD 2Fd

2Fd 2H !2Fd2 H2


In dark fermentation, there are some operational conditions that define the efficiency of the process: the flow pattern
induced by the impeller [33], the partial pressure of bioH2 in
the reactor headspace [12], the pH [27] and the operation
temperature [34].
The hydrodynamics inside the reactor play an important
role in bioH2 production because of their impact on mass
transfer phenomena, specifically the transfer of the bioH2
dissolved in the liquid phase [5]. According to Henry's law, the
interaction between the bioH2 partial pressure (pH2) of the
gas in the headspace and its concentration in the liquid phase
affects the metabolic pathways in biological H2 production
(Esquivel-Elizondo et al., 2014 [12]). It has been reported that a
partial pressure of bioH2 higher than 0.06 atm in the headspace reduces or even inhibit the production of this gas [28].
Therefore, it is essential to remove the excess bioH2 from the
liquid and gaseous phases. BioH2 is produced in the liquid
phase, and then the first stage of the removal process is

regulated by the transfer of bioH2 from the liquid to the

gaseous phase.
There are different techniques to release bioH2 from the
liquid phase of the reactor. The most common practice is to
inject a carrier gas such as nitrogen [6]. Nevertheless, this
strategy is unattractive because it is necessary to invest
additional resources to inject the gas and to separate bioH2
from the outlet gaseous stream. Another strategy is the use of
a vacuum pressure controller connecting a pump to control
the pressure in the reactor headspace [28]. The vacuum pump
extracts the content of the reactor and sends it to a gaseliquid
separator where the gaseous and soluble products are
collected separately. This strategy has the advantage that the
bioH2 is not diluted, and there is no necessity to spend more
resources on the carrier gas [28].
An alternative approach, which to the best of our knowledge has been relatively little investigated, consists of the
regulation of the hydrodynamic behavior of the fluid inside the
reactor. In nonstandard stirred reactors with typical ratios
greater than one and equipped with two or more impellers,
this strategy can be carried out by adjusting the distance between the impellers, the impeller off-bottom clearance, the
stirring rate or by changing the impeller type to have a more
adequate flow pattern inside the reactor and greater control of
the mixing conditions [33]. In fact, a mixing regime where axial
flow could be enforced should promote the transfer of bioH2
from the liquid to the reactor headspace, thereby reducing the
bioH2 partial pressure and enhancing its production.
It is well known that the type of impeller impacts the
mixing time as well as the circulating loops generated in the
reactor [32]; some generate axial flow, others radial, and some
combine both [4]. Considering that the mixing process result
in stirred tanks is highly influenced by the flow patterns
induced by the impeller, selecting an appropriate impeller can
be useful to intensify the process and the system cost. In
practice, the impeller selection depends mainly on the process
nature [19]. In principle, an axially pumping impeller should
favor the gas compound transfer from the liquid phase to the
gaseous phase (reactor headspace). On the other hand, radial
impellers promote the liquid collision with the tank walls and
micromixing [9].
The experimental evaluation of a mixing process's performance as a function of the impeller type, geometry and distribution can be an exhaustive and expensive task. The
number of experiments needed to obtain a complete understanding of the effect of mixing on the biological activity in
dark fermentation would require very long periods of time. A
relatively novel alternative to reduce the time and resources
for achieving a feasible analysis of the mixing performance
effect on the biological activity is the so-called computational
fluid dynamics (CFD).
CFD predict flow patterns, mass transfer, heat interchange
and other reaction-related phenomena. Advances in CFD and
computing capacity have provided an economical and efficient way to describe, with a good degree of accuracy, the
hydrodynamic behavior of a reactor [16]. The main advantage
of using CFD is the capacity to predict and visualize the flow
pattern of almost any type of fluid in complex geometries and
even in the region swept by the impellers, eliminating the
necessity of building prototypes.

~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

The limitations of the CFD technique in stirred tanks arise

mainly from the resolution of the computational grid because
this is directly related to the computational cost of the solution. However, in the literature, there are a large number of
studies where experimental observations were successfully
compared to CFD results, thereby validating the technique
Considering that the hydrodynamics of the fluid controls
the bioH2 production and that the flow behavior can be
effectively simulated by CFD, in this work, the CFD software
Fluent 14.5 was first used to study the flow in a fermentation
stirred tank of non-standard geometry. In the first part of the
study, the CFD simulations were conducted with the main
objective of understanding how the behavior of the fluid inside a reactor agitated with two different dual impeller systems, i.e., Rushton and pitched blade turbines PB4, impacts
the bioH2 productivity. Because the tank was initially equipped by the provider with dual Rushton impellers, the performance of this impeller system was compared against dual
four-blade pitched impellers PB4. In the second part of the
study, experimental fermentations for bioH2 production,
using the previously simulated configurations, were performed to demonstrate the impact of the geometry and distribution of the impellers (considering the velocity patterns)
on bioH2 productivity.

Materials and methods

Computational methods (CFD)
Numerical simulations on CFD mainly consist of four steps: i)
model geometry generation, ii) meshing the computational
domain, iii) numerical solution of partial differential equations in a simulation software such as Fluent, and iv) postprocessing of the simulation results. This section describes
these stages to simulate the stirred tank used during the
fermentation tests. Details about the model used are included
in the following Sections 3D drawing of full-scale reactor,
Meshing the computational domain and Solving equations.

3D drawing of full-scale reactor

With the dimensions obtained from the reactor, the
computational-assisted drawing (CAD) of the fermentation
tank was performed. The best and worst configurations chosen from the statistical analysis can be found in a previous
work [33]. This study was performed considering that c/Dt is
the distance between the bottom of the tank and the first
impeller and s/Di is the distance between impeller centers.
The optimal configuration consisting of c/Dt 0.5 and s/Di 1
and a less favorable configuration with c/Dt 0.5 and s/Di 2
were drawn. For the construction of the tank geometry, it was
necessary to simplify the geometry to avoid difficulties during
the meshing process. Commonly, if the geometry has narrow
areas or very sharp corners, uncertainties in simulations can
arise. These simplifications can be performed if the accuracy
of the numerical resolution is not restricted.
The 3D drawings obtained are shown in Fig. 1a. In the
drawings, two cylinders enclosing the impellers were added.
These cylinders define analysis regions called moving zones.

These cylinders define two analysis domains called moving

zones or rotating reference frames (RRF) regions. In Fluent,
this meshing strategy is useful to make a steady-state
approximation, by using the multiple reference frame (MRF)
method, for the solution of fluid flows in baffled stirred tanks.
In the MRF approach, the flow field is divided into two domains,
an inner RRF domain, which rotates at the same impeller
speed, and an outer domain or static reference frame (SRF)
region, which is stationary. This approach has been reported in
the literature as an effective way for modeling fully baffled
tanks stirred with axial or radial flow impellers [19,20,25,29].
Additionally, to reduce the computing time for the simulations, the geometry of the tank was changed by applying a
software feature called symmetry. In the drawing of the tank
fermentation with PB4, only 1/4 of the reactor was simulated.
However, for the Rushton turbine, it was not possible to apply
the symmetry tool, so the fermentation tank was simulated
completely. The symmetries are shown in Fig. 1b.

Meshing the computational domain

The mesh generation is a crucial part of CFD studies. The
density and size of the control volume in the mesh determine
the accuracy of the solution. In the area near the wall and near
the impeller, the mesh is much thinner. This strategy is proposed so that changes in the boundary layer can be captured
correctly in numerical calculations. Furthermore, in areas
where large velocity and pressure gradients are expected, the
mesh is less dense to keep the number of computational cells
smaller enough.
Before exporting the mesh to Fluent, domain boundaries
should be defined as the tank walls, the impeller, the shaft and
the free surfaces of the tank. It is also necessary to define as
periodic surfaces those that were generated by dividing the
volume control to ensure that Fluent interprets the flow as
periodic, i.e., that the fluid coming out of the periodic surfaces
is that entering the other surface. The mesh that was created
for the PB4 simulations has 242,220 elements, with a
maximum skewness of 0.88, and the mesh for the Rushton
simulations has 355,714 elements, with a maximum skewness
of 0.90. Fig. 2 depicts the cross-sections of the actual geometric
segments and the computational grid used in the dual system
of PB4 and Rushton turbine simulations for c/Dt 0.5 and s/
Di 1. As can be seen, each computational grid shows the
fluid volume as the sum of the RRF and the SRF regions. The
interface between both frames of reference was set at an axial
distance 0.25D from the impeller centerline and radially at
0.7D. In both RRF regions enclosing the impellers, the checkbox frame motion was activated in the Fluent solution setup.
In addition, for each cell zone in the domain, the angular velocity of the reference frame and the axis about which it rotates (clockwise rotation of the impeller, y 1) was specified.
The rotational motion effect in the RRF region is introduced to
the NaviereStokes equations using a MRF model. Additional
rotational forces that influence the flow in stirred tanks, as
coriolis and centrifugal forces, are then introduced as source
terms [14]. The SRF region is considered as stationary region,
without application of the rotational flow equations. In the
interface between both domains the conservation of the
fluxes in all equations occurs. Grid refinement in the region
near the walls and the impellers can be appreciated.

~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

Fig. 1 e a) CADs of fermentation tank with two different configurations. b) Fermentation tank with symmetry applied.

Fig. 2 e Computational grid used in CFD simulations for c/Dt 0.5 and s/Di 1 with the impellers. a) Rushton b) PB4.

Solving equations
Once the mesh geometry is ready to simulate, it is loaded into
Fluent to specify and solve numerically the partial differential equations that govern the fluid flow process. The simulations for the Rushton and PB4 impellers were performed at
200 rpm [13]. The specifications for the principal liquid phase
(water) were a density of 1000 kg/m3 and a viscosity of
0.001 kg/m-s. As the motion of the liquid in the stirred tank is a
fully developed turbulent flow (Reynolds number 48,000),
solution of these equations requires an appropriate closure for
the turbulence model. In this paper, the MRF approach
together with the standard k-epsilon model was used for
modeling 3D turbulent flow field [26,16,19,43].
To specify the solution of the mathematical model, we took
into account the following considerations: isothermal state,
steady state, Newtonian fluid, turbulent flow around the tank,
constant density (incompressible fluid), surface pressure
equal to the atmospheric pressure, and clockwise rotation of
the impeller.
Other steps and specifications to calculate the solution in
Fluent were the following: the simulations were performed
based on pressure variations, a coupled pressureevelocity
coupling scheme was used along with the QUICK discretization scheme.
To reduce the effect of numerical errors, a specific location
reference pressure was selected, as reported in Table 2. The
no-slip boundary condition was applied to rigid surfaces, i.e.,

baffles, walls, impellers, and shaft. For the impellers and the
shaft, a moving wall condition with an absolute rotational
speed of 200 rpm was specified. All simulations were stopped
after 4000 iterations, at which point the residual of the equations was less than 105, reflecting no significant changes in
the monitored torque and axial velocity.

Biological H2 production
An adapted inoculum was used [15]. The microbial consortium was previously characterized and was mainly
composed of Bifidobacterium (85%) but also contained Klebsiella,
Clostridium, Acetobacter, Enterobacter, Citrobacter and other microorganisms in smaller proportions.
For all fermentations, a pre-inoculum was acclimated for
48 h. During the first 24 h, 20 mL of inoculum was cultured in a
volume of 0.15 L of mineral medium. Then, the inoculum was
diluted by a factor of 10 to a final volume of 1.5 L for use in the
fermentation of 25 L in the pilot reactor.

Fermentation setup
Fermentations were carried out in CSTR, pilot scale bioreactor
xico) with a total volume of
(BDE-30 fermenter, Eili Dicon, Me
30 L. The operating volume was 25 L. A total volume of 1.5 L of
inoculum was fed together with 23.5 L of mineral medium
with the following composition (g/L): 3 (NH4)2SO4, 0.6 KH2PO4,

~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

2.4 K2HPO4, 1.5 MgSO4$7H2O, 0.15 CaSO4 and 0.03 FeSO4.

Anaerobic conditions were established before operation by
sparging with a N2 current. Fermentations were performed in
batch mode operation and strictly operated under previously
determined optimum conditions: 36 1  C, pH 5.5, 200 rpm
and 10 g/L substrate concentration [13]. The concentration of
H2 in the system was monitored as previously reported
(Esquivel-Elizondo et al., 2014 [12]). The reduction of the partial pressure of bioH2 was achieved by the continuous release
of biogas through a valve at the top of the reactor (which always remained open to its maximum capacity) and the flow
patterns generated by PB4 axial flow impellers. Four fermentation tests were performed in duplicate, using the configurations shown in Table 1.

Analytical methods
The bioH2 in the headspace was periodically measured using a
gas syringe (0.15 mL injection volume) and a gas chromatograph (Gow-Mac Series 580, Bethlehem, PA, USA) equipped
with a thermal conductivity detector and a silica column
(180  1/80  0.08500 , Alltech Co., Beerfield, IL) with N2 as the
carrier gas (30 mL/min). The injector, detector and column
temperatures were 120  C, 75  C and 30  C, respectively.
The glucose consumption was measured with the DNS (3,
5-dinitrosalicylic acid) colorimetric method previously reported in Ref. [13].
The biomass was evaluated by quantifying the protein
using the Bradford method. The biomass concentration was
estimated by assuming that protein constituted 50% of the dry
biomass weight (experimentally determined).

Results and discussion

Computational fluid dynamics
In Fig. 3, the velocity contours and flow patterns generated by
the dual system of Rushton and PB4 turbines are shown.
These images were obtained from the CFD simulations tested
on their respective optimal and less favorable configurations
(with respect to the impeller distribution). In both cases, the
highest speeds are near the blades of each impeller. In the
simulation of the Rushton turbine under the optimal and the
less favorable configuration (Fig. 3a and b, respectively), two
segregated circulation loops are generated. The flow patterns
at the less favorable configuration showed a negligible interaction between the circulation loops of impellers. This suggests that the higher radial velocities of the Rushton turbine
create a rigid fluid body around each impeller, leading to an

Table 2 e Operating condition specifications.



Location of the
reference pressure

Gravity (m/s2)

101,325 Pa

1.225 kg/m3

X(m) 0.12
Y(m) 0.622
Z(m) 0.0

X(m) 0
Y(m) 9.81
Z(m) 0

inefficient axial pumping of the fluid inside the reactor. In

Fig. 3c, the PB4 impellers promote a loop circulation, but under
the less favorable configuration, no interaction between the
fluxes of the two impellers was obtained. On the other hand,
as seen in Fig. 3d, it is clear that the flow produced by the PB4
upper impeller is interwoven with that of the bottom impeller,
generating a single circulation loop that pumps fluid efficiently from the bottom to the top of the tank. Fig. 4a and b
shows the velocity contours generated in the simulation of the
fermentation tank with Rushton and PB4 impellers, respectively, at a constant stirred velocity of 200 rpm for the optimal
impellers configuration (c/Dt 0.5 and s/Di 1). The velocity
vectors generated by the PB4 clearly show the pumping action
of both impellers which defines a desired liquid circulation.
This phenomenon benefits the bioH2 production because it
favors bioH2 mass transfer to the top of the tank and the
reduction of the H2 partial pressure.
The last aspects were discussed by Ref. [31]. Authors
evaluated a dual-impeller vortex-ingesting stirred tank for
bioH2 production. The bioreactor used in that work was
equipped with a draft tube, and a system for stripping the
dissolved gaseous fermentation products. The striping of the
cumulated gas in the headspace of the reactor allowed the
reduction of the H2 concentration in the liquid phase, which
improves the bioH2 production as previously reported
Montante et al. [31] also found, by using the CFD technique,
that the velocity vectors showed a pumping action of both
impellers which determines that the liquid phase moves in a
single loop flow pattern. The velocity vectors determined with
the PB4 impeller in the present study are in agreement with
the results obtained by these authors, under similar experimental conditions: a single-phase flow and a flat liquid surface. The fluid dynamic behavior of the vessel used by Ref. [31]
changes when lowering the liquid level from 2T to 1.6T at the
same impeller speed and vortex ingestion takes place. The
gassed liquid velocity field around the two impellers showed
that the movement of the gas phase was obtained through
vortex-ingestion. Bubbles ingested through the vortex are
drawn down along the draft tube by the top impeller, while
outside the draft tube gas circulation was induced by buoyancy. The overall flow pattern showed that the driving force

Table 1 e Evaluated conditions in dark fermentation for Bio-H2 production.





c/Dt 0.5
s/Di 1

c/Dt 0.5
s/Di 2

c/Dt 0.5
s/Di 1

c/Dt 0.5
s/Di 2



~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

Fig. 3 e Velocity vectors (m/s) in liquid phase for the different evaluated conditions: a) Less favorable configuration with
Rushton impellers. b) Optimal configuration with Rushton turbines. c) Less favorable configuration with PB4 impellers. d)
Optimal configuration with PB4 impellers.

for the external gas circulation was the mechanical agitation.

This process was intensified by the bubbles generated in the
top impeller region, which allow avoiding further power
Regarding the power consumption, in the present work the
power consumption required to complete the loop was lower
in the case of PB4, as shown in a previous work [33], because
the flow ejected by the top impeller matched that of the lower
(i.e., are interconnected). The PB4 impeller also showed a
lower mixing time, as previously reported [33], the mixing
time is considered a process limited by axial pumping [36].
These results explain why dual PB4 impellers exhibit a lower
mixing time with respect to the dual Rushton turbine impeller
system [9].
In the literature there exist some other works about the
CFD use to determine the hydrodynamic in different type of
reactors and to model the effect of type and impellers

configuration. Trad et al. [40] modeled an anaerobic submerged membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) used for the bioH2
production using straw as substrate. The use of this substrate
involves an adequate description of the solid suspension
behavior. The experiments were carried out in a 5-L
mechanically-stirred tank associated with an external hollow
fiber microfiltration (MF) membrane module. A dual impellers
system was used, the bottom impeller was a four-blade disk
turbine (i.e. a radial impeller) and the second impeller was a
three-blade, 45 pitched blade turbine. The pitched blade
turbine produces a flow discharge both axially and radially.
Authors demonstrated that the different agitation rates evaluated, between 30 and 50 rpm, slightly modified the flow
pattern. The local velocity was decomposed into its axial,
radial and tangential components for both the pitched blade
and the four-blade turbines. The local velocity in the plane of
the impellers was mainly tangential and the radial component

~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

Fig. 4 e Velocity contours generated in the simulation of the fermentation tank with a constant stirred velocity of 200 rpm
for c/Dt 0.5 and s/Di 1 with the impellers. a) Rushton b) PB4.

was negligible. These conditions promote that the fluid goes to

the four-blade turbine, between the impellers and close to the
pitched blade impeller [40]. On the other hand, the fluid moves
downwards close to the wall, this behavior allowed a recirculation loop between the bottom and top region of the tank.
Between the impellers and close to the wall the velocity was
the lowest, where the straw particles moved nearly horizontally, therefore the flow in the solid suspension is close to that
of the single-phase flow [40].
Considering the flow patterns, the main difference between the behaviors described by the fluid in the simulations
is the generation of one circulation loop by the impellers in the
optimal configuration and the presence of two loops of and a
dead zone in the second configuration. This last situation does
not favor the fluid contact with the gas phase found in the
headspace of the reactor, decreasing the liquidegas mass
transfer. Additionally, the use of PB4 impellers enhanced the
energy balance by reducing the energy required to complete
the homogenization of the liquid media.
The one loop flow pattern, its effects over the gaseliquid
mass transfer and the subsequent effect over the H2 production and the reduce power requirements through the impellers effect are in agreement with data available in literature for
different geometrical and configuration arrangements.

Biological H2 production
The behavior of the biological processes with the two evaluated impellers under the optimal and the less favorable
configurations, initially modeled by CFD, was determined.
Fig. 5 shows the substrate consumption and the corresponding biomass and bioH2 production. The correlation
between the variations of these three variables demonstrates
that the bioH2 production was associated with microbial
growth. In all the experiments, the initial glucose
concentration (10 g/L) was 98% consumed at different cultivation times. Glucose was consumed at 60 h of culture
when Rushton impeller was used at the less favorable

configuration (Fig. 4a), a glucose consumption rate of 0.17 g/

Lh was determined. In the other evaluated conditions
(Fig. 5bed) glucose was consumed at around 25 h of culture,
reaching similar and higher consumption rates around 0.35
and 0.37 g/Lh. The final biomass concentration was higher at
the optimized configuration for both impellers (around 0.7 g/
L), while at the less favorable configuration only 0.057 and
0.18 g/L of biomass was produced with Rushton and PB4
impellers, respectively. The optimized impeller geometry
promotes a better mixing regime, making the substrate more
available. It was expected that the type of impeller allowed a
better growth, however higher biomass concentration was
mainly associated with an optimized configurations of the
impellers. These data suggest a greater effect of the impellers
configuration over the cell growth compare with the effect of
the impeller type.
Regarding the bioH2 production, when the less favorable
configuration was used for the Rushton impellers (Fig. 5a) only
17.7 L of cumulative bioH2 volume was obtained. The cumulative bioH2 production increased to approximately 44 L when
the Rushton impeller was used under the optimal configuration. Fig. 5c shows the kinetics of bioH2 production when the
PB4 impellers were in the less favorable condition. Finally,
when the optimal configuration with PB4 impellers was used
(Fig. 5d) the highest cumulative bioH2 of 78 L was achieved.
Considering an initial glucose mass of 250 g (1.38 mol) and the
butyric pathway, the bioH2 production has a theoretical yield
of 2 mol of bioH2 per mole of glucose [21]. According to the
ideal gas law, 2 mol of bioH2 are equivalent to 63 L of bioH2 [12].
Hence, 87 L was expected to be the total theoretical cumulative volume of this gas. Therefore, the highest cumulative
bioH2 obtained with PB4 under the optimal configuration, in
this process correspond to 88.4% of the theoretical value. This
percentage diminished to 77.9% for the PB4 impeller under the
less favorable configuration. Nonetheless, the worst production using PB4 is still 54% higher than the best obtained with
the Rushton impellers (bioH2 cumulative volume of 44 L)
(Fig. 5b).

~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
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i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

Fig. 5 e Performance of the bioH2 production system; (-) Cumulative bioH2 production, (L), (+) Biomass concentration (g/L)
and () Glucose consumption. a) Less favorable configuration with Rushton impellers kinetics. b) Optimal configuration
with Rushton turbines kinetics. c) Less favorable configuration with PB4 impellers kinetics. d) Optimal configuration with
PB4 impellers kinetics.

The productivities and yields obtained with different impellers in different configurations are summarized in Table 3.
It is clearly shown that the impeller type and flow pattern
have a great impact on the H2 productivity.
In terms of the maximum H2 production rate, fermentations performed with the PB4 impellers showed higher bioH2
productivities (440.0 mL/Lh for the best configuration and
407.84 mL/Lh for the less favorable case) than those using the
Rushton turbine (289.88 mL/Lh for the best configuration and
64.25 mL/Lh for the worst case). Therefore, an increment of
6.84 times was achieved.
Many researchers have investigated the optimization of
the production of bioH2 in different types of reactors and
different substrates, but just a few have tried to optimize the
bioH2 production by a hydrodynamic analysis of the reactor
like the one presented in the present work. Ding et al. [11]
correlated information about the simulations and the experimental data of bioH2 fermentations in a continuous stirredtank reactor (CSTR) by using a CFD study. Data showed that
the maximum bioH2 yield was reached at lower impeller
speed with the optimized impeller. The bioH2 yields obtained
in the present work are in the range of those reported by Ref.
[11]; from 11.6 L/d for the less favorable configuration with the
Rushton impellers to 31.6 L/d for the optimal configuration
obtained with the PB4 impellers (Table 3).
Using another type of reactor [41], reported the use of CFD
code to simulate the flow field and the reaction kinetics of an
expanded granular sludge bed (EGSB) reactor for bioH2 production. The liquid velocity vectors in the EGSB reactor
showed the establishment of a gradient within the sludge bed
region. This allowed a better solideliquid mixing. A

completely opposite behavior was determined in the reaction

zone, where low changes in velocity and consequently few
contributions to mass transfer were found. At the beginning of
the reaction, when the mixing process was mainly in the
sludge bed region, the conversion was low. However, as a
result of the biogas production an intensive mixing and turbulence allowed better mass transfer and thus higher glucose
conversion. These authors [41] also determined a correlation
between the experimental bioH2 production rate and the
simulated H2 mass flow rate. An adequate HRT results in a
maximized interphase interaction which in turn affects the
bioH2 production as seen in Table 3.
Comparing the results found in the present work with the
average of the yields and productivities reported in the literature (where no CFD study was developed), one may observe
that the H2/glucose yield value is quite close to those reported
in the literature, and an average enhancement of approximately 50% is obtained in the bioH2 productivity. Wu et al. [42],
used a fluidized bed reactor of 4 L inoculated with sludge from
wastewater treatment and glucose as a substrate to obtain a
maximum yield of 1.46 mol H2/mol glucose, which represents
81.1% of the yield obtained in this work. It seems feasible that
using different types of reactors (CSTR) with different operating volumes impacts the H2 to glucose yield parameter.
Sreethawong et al., [39] studied the effect of the nitrogen
concentration and composition of organic acids in the production of H2 with cultures inoculated with sewage and
glucose as a substrate. The fermentation was conducted in an
anaerobic sequential batch reactor of 4 L, finding a maximum
productivity of 7.44 L/L day, which similar of the productivity
obtained in this study, and a maximum yield of 1.46 mol

~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
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tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

Fermentation system


BioH2/Biogas yield (L/d)

Impeller type

Continuous stirred-tank reactor (CSTR)


Normal impeller a blade angle of 45

Expanded granular sludge bed (EGSB) reactor


Optimized impeller a blade angle of 45


Continuous stirred-tank reactor (CSTR)


10 (110 rpm)/11.8 to 26.1 (impeller speed from 50 to 70 rpm. Maximum

value of 29.2 at 90 rpm).
10 (70 rpm)/24.3 (impeller speed 70 rpm).
2.04b at a HRT of 4 h
3.1b at an HRT of 2 h
HPRe 64.24
HYf 0.1

Rushton LFCc (c/Dt 0.5 s/Di 2)

HPRe 289.88
HYf 1.04
Rushton OCd (c/Dt 0.5 s/Di 1)
HPRe 407.94
HYf 1.56
PB4 LFCc (c/Dt 0.5 s/Di 2)
HPRe 440.63
HYf 1.8
PB4 OCd (c/Dt 0.5 s/Di 1)

Mixed by bubbles generation.

Data calculated from the Figures provide by the authors.
LFC less favorable configuration.
OC optimal configuration.
Maximum H2 production rate (mLH2/Lh).
H2/glucose yield (mol/mol).


This work

i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

~ o-Navarro C, et al., Effects of fluid dynamics on enhanced biohydrogen production in a pilot stirred
Please cite this article in press as: Nin
tank reactor: CFD simulation and experimental studies, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (2016),

Table 3 e Comparison of bioH2 productivities obtained in the present work with the literature at different impellers and optimal and suboptimal configurations.


i n t e r n a t i o n a l j o u r n a l o f h y d r o g e n e n e r g y x x x ( 2 0 1 6 ) 1 e1 1

H2/mol glucose (81.1% of this study's yield), which suggests a

lower global yield of the process.
Esquivel-Elizondo et al., in 2014, [12] also reported an
optimized productivity by controlling the bioH2 partial pressure in the headspace of the reactor. In this work, Rushton
impellers in an unspecified configuration and a stirring speed
of 150 rpm were evaluated. Glucose was used as substrate, and
the operating volume was 15 L. Under these operating conditions, a maximum productivity of 108 mL/L h was obtained,
which represents 24% of the maximum productivity found in
this study. The H2 glucose yield reported in that study was
1.9 mol H2/mol glucose, which is only 5% higher than the one
obtained in the present work. These values suggest that the
efficiency of the microorganism was similar in both studies,
but the axial pumping made an important difference in the
bioH2 productivity and cumulative volume.
The observed enhancement of the bioH2 productivity could
be explained as a consequence of the flow patterns generated
by the PB4 impellers, which facilitated gaseliquid mass
transfer of the bioH2 dissolved in the liquid phase toward the
headspace of the reactor. Consequently, the release of the
biogas of the reactor and the corresponding decrement of the
bioH2 partial pressure inside the tank are promoted. By
decreasing the partial pressure of gas within the headspace of
the reactor, it is possible to increase the accumulated volume
of bioH2 and prevents the inhibition of the process by soluble
bioH2 [5,12,28]. Furthermore, the results shown that the higher
bioH2 production obtained with the PB4 impeller were a result
not only of the hydrodynamic behavior, but also of more
efficient metabolic processes. Higher cell growth and substrate consumption allowed enhanced bioH2 production with
the PB4 at the optimized configuration.
According to the results obtained in this study, when using
two PB4 impellers (in their optimal configuration), an
improvement in the bioH2 productivity in the reactor and a
lower power consumption were demonstrated. The CFD study
of the hydrodynamic behavior in the tank was useful to predict the flow patterns generated by the different impellers.
Different researchers have conducted studies of CFD to
study mixing times [18], flow patterns [32] and heat transfer
[36]. Within this research, the CFD tool was used to evaluate
the flow patterns within fermentation tanks with different
configurations found by the statistical analysis reported in a
previous work [33]. The modification of flow velocity patterns
promoted by the PB4 impeller enhances the bioH2 productivity
in real fermentations.

The hydrodynamic optimization of the reactor enhances the
production of bioH2, by promoting the mixing and the
continuous ascension of the liquid inside the tank. CFD simulations allowed predicting better system configurations and
understanding the mechanism by which the bioH2 productivity was increased when PB4 impellers were used. The flow
patterns generated by the PB4 impellers move the bioH2
molecules toward the headspace. The dissolved bioH2 transfer
to the gaseous phase is promoted by the flow patterns.
Therefore, the bioH2 productivity and the cumulative bioH2

volume were higher when PB4 impellers were used compared

to those obtained with Rushton. Furthermore, the results
shown that the higher bioH2 production obtained with the PB4
impeller were a result not only of the hydrodynamic behavior,
but also of more efficient metabolic processes. Higher cell
growth and substrate consumption allowed enhanced bioH2
production with the PB4 at the optimized configuration.

This work was funded by Conacyt Grant 241401 and IPN grant
20160297. Authors acknowledge the technical contribution of
G. Martnez de Jesus.


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