NIST Time|NIST Home|About NIST|Contact NIST

HomeAll Years:AuthorKeywordTitle2005-2010:AuthorKeywordTitle

Large Eddy Simulations of Fires: From Concepts to Computations.

pdf icon Large Eddy Simulations of Fires: From Concepts to Computations. (5992 K)
Baum, H. R.

Fire Protection Engineering, No. 6, 36-38,40,42, Spring 2000.


simulation; convection; fire plumes; industrial fires; tank fires


The idea that the dynamics of a fire might be studied using digital computers probably dates back to the beginnings of the computer age. The concept that a fire requires the mixing of a combustible gas with enough air at elevated temperatures is well known to anyone involved with fire. Graduate students enrolled in courses in fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and combustion have been taught the equations that need to be solved for at least as long as computers have been around. What is the problem? The difficulties revolve about three issues: First, there are an enormous number of possible fire scenarios to consider. Second, we do not have either the physical insight or the computing power (even if we had the insight) to perform all the neccessary calculations for most fire scenarios. Finally, since the "fuel" in most fires was never intended as such, the data needed to characterize both the fuel and the fire environment may not be available. In order to make progress, the questions that are asked have to be greatly simplified. To begin with, instead of seeking a methodology that can be applied to all fire problems, we begin by looking at a few scenarios that seem to be most amenable to analysis. Hopefully, the methods developed to study these "simple" problems can be generalized over time so that more complex scenarios can be analyzed. Second, we must learn to live with idealized descriptions of fires and approximate solutions to our idealized equations. These idealized descriptions have to be based on the kind of incomplete knowledge of fire scenarios that is characteristic of real fires. Finally, the methods should be capable of systematic improvement. Thus, as our physical insight and computing power grow more powerful the methods of analysis can grow with them. The "Large Eddy Simulation" (LES) technique developed at NIST over a nearly two decade period is our attempt to carry out the conceptual program outlined above. The phrase refers to the description of turbulent mixing of the gaseous fuel and combustion products with the local atmosphere surrounding the fire. This process, which determines the burning rate in most fires and controls the spread of smoke and hot gases, is extremely difficult to predict accurately. This is true not only in fire research but in almost all phenomena involving turbulent fluid motion. The basic idea behind the use of the LES technique is that the eddies that account for most of the mixing are large enough to be calculated with reasonable accuracy from the equations of fluid mechanics. The hope (which must ultimately be justified by appeal to experiments) is that small scale eddy motion can either be crudely accounted for or ignored.