Fluorine gas is produced industrially by electrolysing hydrogen fluoride in a potassium acid fluoride electrolyte. Fluorine is produced at the carbon anode, while hydrogen is produced at the mild-steel cathode. The fluorine produced has a wide range of uses, most notably in the nuclear industry where it is used to separate 235U and 238U. The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) is a producer of fluorine and requested an investigation into the hydrodynamics of their electrolysis cells as part of a larger national initiative to beneficiate more of South Africa’s large fluorspar deposits. Due to the extremely corrosive and toxic environment inside a typical fluorine electrolysis reactor, the fluid dynamics in the reactor are not understood well enough. The harsh conditions make detailed experimental investigation of the reactors extremely dangerous. The objective of this project is to construct a model that can accurately predict the physical processes involved in the production of fluorine gas. The results of the simulation will be compared to experimental results from tests done on a lab-scale reactor. A good correlation between reality and the simulacrum would mean engineers and designers can interrogate the inner operation of said reactors safely, effortlessly and economically. This contribution reports a time-dependent simulation of a fluorine-producing electrolysis reactor. COMSOL Multiphysics was used as a tool to construct a two dimensional model where the charge-, heat-, mass- and momentum transfer were fully coupled in one transient simulation. COMSOL is a finite element analysis software package. It enables the user to specify the dimensions of his/her investigation and specify a set of partial differential equations, boundary conditions and starting values. These equations can be coupled to ensure that the complex interaction between the various physical phenomena can be taken into account - an absolute necessity in a model as complex as this one. Results produced include a set of time dependent graphics where the charge-, heat-, mass- and momentum transfer inside the reactor and their development can be visualized clearly. The average liquid velocity in the reactor was also simulated and it was found that this value stabilises after around 90 s. The results of each transfer module are also shown at 100 s, where it is assumed that the simulation has achieved a quasi-steady state. The reactor, on which the model is based, is currently under construction and will be operated under the same conditions as specified in the model. The reactor, constructed of stainless steel, has a transparent side window through which both electrodes can clearly be seen. Thus the bubble formation and flow in the reactor can be studied effectively. Temperature will be measured with a set of thermocouples imbedded in PTFE throughout the reactor. The electric field will similarly be measured using electric induction probes.
Dissertation (MEng)--University of Pretoria, 2012.