Discrete element modeling of deformable pinewood chips in cyclic loading test
The design of efficient lignocellulosic biomass feedstock systems is challenging, as current laboratory characterization and design methods were developed primarily for fine powders with relatively low compressibility. The discrete element method (DEM) is gaining prominence as an alternative method for modeling the bulk flow and transport of particulate materials in hoppers and feeders. However, prior DEM simulations investigating the flow of wood chips modeled the particles as simple rigid geometries such as spheres, rods or blocks, and neglected the effects of particle deformability and irregular shapes. As a consequence, those simplified DEM models may not provide enough key diagnosis to help improve the design of biomass feeding and handling equipment. This work presents a bonded-sphere DEM approach for characterizing the mechanical behavior of bulk flexible, deformable pinewood chips in a cyclic stress loading test. Clustered spheres that can bend and twist via elastic bonds are used to model irregular-shape particles in real pinewood chip samples. An axial compression tester, which contains 0.06 million bonded-sphere particles (1.35 million spheres) in a quarter cylinder, is simulated with a domain size similar to the experiments. With careful calibration, the simulations have delivered the bulk densities and the bulk moduli of elasticity that are in good agreement with those measured in the corresponding experiments. However, it is also been found challenging for the present DEM model to accurately predict the overall stress-strain behavior of bulk pinewood chips, especially the large sustained plastic deformation during unloading. Additional numerical tests have shown that the adjustment in certain contact parameters (e.g. bond stiffness) can lead to profound solution improvement, but meanwhile will induce extra challenges such as increased computing time. Future work will include an elasto-plastic particle bond model to enhance the simulation fidelity.
Keywords: Biomass, Wood chips, Deformable particle, Discrete element method, LIGGGHTS