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Keywords:

  • non-Newtonian fluid;
  • viscoelasticity;
  • elongational flow;
  • micromixer;
  • caterpillar;
  • pressure drop;
  • excess pressure drop;
  • friction factor

Microreactors are very promising tools for the design of future chemical processes. For example, emulsions of very narrow size distribution are obtained at much lower energy consumption than the one spent with usual processes. Micromixers play thereby an eminent role. The goal of this study is to better understand the hydrodynamic properties of a split-and-recombine Caterpillar micromixer (CPMM) specially with regard to handling viscoelastic fluids, a topic hardly addressed so far in the context of micromixers in general, although industrial fluids like detergent, cosmetic, or food emulsions are non-Newtonian. Friction factor was measured in a CPMM for both Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids. For Newtonian fluids, the friction factor in the laminar regime is f/2 = 24/Re. The laminar regime exists up to Reynolds numbers of 15. For shear-thinning fluids like Carbopol 940 or viscoelastic fluids like Poly Acryl Amide (PAAm) aqueous solutions, the friction factor scales identically within statistical errors up to a generalized Reynolds number of 10 and 0.01, respectively. Above that limit, there is an excess pressure drop for the viscoelastic PAAm solution. This excess pressure drop multiplies the friction factor by more than a decade over a decade of Reynolds numbers. The origin of this excess pressure drop is the high elongational flow present in the Caterpillar static mixer applied to a highly viscoelastic fluid. This result can be extended to almost all static mixers, because their flows are generally highly elongational. © 2013 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 59: 2679–2685, 2013