Cooling Tower

Vortex Formation in Suction Bay

computational domain of the suction bay

Computational domain of the suction bay


Two cooling water units were being constructed at the BP Whiting Refinery facility. BP Whiting Refinery would like some assurance that, with the current design, surface vortex would not form in the cooling pump suction bay. Surface vortex could reduce pump water delivery and reduce pump reliability. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) was used to model the suction bay.

Streamlines for the case where one pump is shut off

Flow streamlines for the case
where one pump is shut off


Three-dimensional CFD models of the cooling tower suction bays were developed to simulate the critical flow conditions at the suction bays. The suction bays were modeled for designed operating condition where all pumps were operating and off-designed operating condition when one of the pump was shut off.


vortex formed near a pump suction inlet

Vertex formed near a pump suction inlet

The simulation results for the ideal operating case where all pump were operating indicated there were very few vortices formed around the corner of each suction bay. Increased number of vortices was present, especially in the area near concrete pillars, when one of the pumps was shut off. Based on these results, it was recommended to the oil refinery owner to reduce the size of the concrete pillars in order to reduce the possibility of vortex formation.

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Faculty Collaborator: Dr. Chenn Q. Zhou
Sponsor: BP Whiting Refinery

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