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Dispersion of swimming algae in laminar and turbulent channel flows: Consequences for photobioreactors

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JournalInterface
DateE-pub ahead of print - 13 Feb 2013
DatePublished (current) - 6 Apr 2013
Issue number81
Volume10
Number of pages14
Early online date13/02/13
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Shear flow significantly affects the transport of swimming algae in suspension. For example, viscous and gravitational torques bias bottom-heavy cells to swim towards regions of downwelling fluid (gyrotaxis). It is necessary to understand how such biases affect algal dispersion in natural and industrial flows, especially in view of growing interest in algal photobioreactors. Motivated by this, we here study the dispersion of gyrotactic algae in laminar and turbulent channel flows using direct numerical simulation (DNS) and a previously published analytical swimming dispersion theory. Time-resolved dispersion measures are evaluated as functions of the Péclet and Reynolds numbers in upwelling and downwelling flows. For laminar flows, DNS results are compared with theory using competing descriptions of biased swimming cells in shear flow. Excellent agreement is found for predictions that employ generalized Taylor dispersion. The results highlight peculiarities of gyrotactic swimmer dispersion relative to passive tracers. In laminar downwelling flow the cell distribution drifts in excess of the mean flow, increasing in magnitude with Péclet number. The cell effective axial diffusivity increases and decreases with Péclet number (for tracers it merely increases). In turbulent flows, gyrotactic effects are weaker, but discernable and manifested as non-zero drift. These results should have a significant impact on photobioreactor design.

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