Mesoscopic discrete element modelling of cohesive powders for bulk handling applications
Thakur, Subhash Chandra
Many powders and particulate solids are stored and handled in large quantities across various industries. These solids often encounter handling and storage difficulties that are caused by the material cohesion. The cohesive strength of a bulk material is a function of its past consolidation stress. For example, high material cohesive strength as a result from high storage stresses in a silo can cause ratholing problems during discharge. Therefore, it is essential to consider the stress-history dependence when evaluating such handling behaviour. In recent years the Discrete Element Method (DEM) has been used extensively to study the complex behaviour of granular materials. Whilst extensive DEM studies have been performed on cohesionless solids, much less work exists on modelling of cohesive solids. The commonly used DEM models to model adhesion such as the JKR, DMT and linear cohesion models have been shown to have difficulty in predicting the stress-history dependent behaviour for cohesive solids. DEM modelling of cohesive solid at individual particle level is very challenging. To apply the model at single particle level accurately would require one to determine the model parameters at particle level and consider the enormous complexity of interfacial interaction. Additionally it is computationally prohibitive to model each and every individual particle and cohesion arising from several different phenomena. In this study an adhesive elasto-plastic contact model for the mesoscopic discrete element method (DEM) with three dimensional non-spherical particles is proposed with the aim of achieving quantitative predictions of cohesive powder flowability. Simulations have been performed for uniaxial consolidation followed by unconfined compression to failure using this model. Additionally, the scaling laws necessary to produce scale independent predictions for cohesionless and cohesive solids was also investigated. The influence of DEM input parameters and model implementation have been explored to study the effect of particle (meso-scale) properties on the bulk behaviour in uniaxial test simulation. The DEM model calibration was achieved using the Edinburgh Powder Tester (EPT) – an extended uniaxial tester to measure flowability of bulk solids. The EPT produced highly repeatable flowability measurements and was shown to be a good candidate for DEM model calibration. The implemented contact model has been shown to be capable of predicting the experimental flow function (unconfined compressive strength versus the prior consolidation stress) for a limestone powder which has been selected as a reference solid in the Europe wide PARDEM research network. Contact plasticity in the model is shown to affect the flowability significantly and is thus essential for producing satisfactory computations of the behaviour of a cohesive granular material. The model predicted a linear relationship between a normalized unconfined compressive strength and the product of coordination number and solid fraction. Significantly, it has been found that contribution of adhesive force to the limiting friction has a significant effect on bulk unconfined strength. Failure to include the adhesive contribution in the calculation of the frictional resistance may lead to under-prediction of unconfined strength and incorrect failure mode. The results provide new insights and propose a micromechanical based measure for characterising the strength and flowability of cohesive granular materials. Scaling of DEM input parameters in a 3D simulation of the loading regimes in a uniaxial test indicated that whilst both normal and tangential contact stiffness (loading, unloading, and load dependent) scales linearly with radius of the particle, the adhesive forces scales with the square of the radius of the particles. This is a first step towards a mesoscopic representation of a cohesive powder that is phenomenological based to produce the key bulk characteristics of a granular solid and the results indicate that it has potential to gain considerable computational advantage for large scale DEM simulations. The contact model parameters explored include particle contact normal loading stiffness, tangential stiffness, and contact friction coefficient. The DEM model implementation parameters included numerical time step, strain rate, and boundary condition. Many useful observations have been made with significant implications for the relative importance of the DEM input parameters. Finally the calibration procedure was applied to a spray dried detergent powder and the simulation results are compared to whole spectrum of loading regime in a uniaxial experiment. The experimental and simulation results were found to be in reasonable agreement for the flow function and compression behaviour.