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Nodeworks Software Toolset Helps Design Optimal Energy Systems
Nodeworks inside of MFiX, being used to create and run 100 cyclone simulations.
Nodeworks inside of MFiX, being used to create and run 100 cyclone simulations.

When NETL recently upgraded its supercomputer Joule, tripling its CPUs and increasing its computational powers by eight-fold, the Lab bolstered one of its most valuable research competencies — computational science and engineering (CSE). NETL’s CSE directorate works with many of the research programs at the lab, especially those that focus on energy conversion engineering by simulating a variety of combustion and gasification processes to ultimately design more efficient energy systems that can deliver affordable and reliable power to consumers.

While Joule provides the muscle to get the job done, the advanced software toolsets developed by NETL’s researchers function as the brains. For instance, when paired with the Lab’s world-renowned Multiphase Flow with Interphase eXchanges (MFiX) suite of simulation codes, the newly overhauled Nodeworks 19.1 toolset helps researchers select the optimal design of an energy system component.

“Nodeworks is a flexible graphical programming library for graphical programming of process workflows,” explained Justin Weber, an NETL researcher who helped developed the software. “The toolset allows NETL researchers to create and customize algorithms — called nodes — to form specialized workflows.”

By setting up a simulation with parameters in MFiX, Nodeworks can reach back into MFiX and change the geometry, boundary conditions, particle properties, and other parameters. The design-of-experiments node can then be used to create samples, write the required directories and files, as well as submit the simulations to a queuing system on a supercomputer like Joule.

“Once the simulations have been completed, a quantity of interest can be calculated from the output,” explained Weber. “A simplified model that can be evaluated quickly can be constructed to represent the results, which is then used by the optimization node to find the optimal design.”

An example of how this toolset could be used on a fossil energy power generation system was highlighted in a recent NETL technical report. The report demonstrates how MFiX and Nodeworks can work together to optimize a bench-scale gasifier, which is a reactor that converts organic or fossil fuels into useful fuels and chemicals.

Cyclone optimization workflow
Cyclone optimization workflow

In the study, a gasifier was simulated using MFiX, and then a design of experiments was constructed in Nodeworks for a range of varying parameters, including biomass flow rate, fluidizing gas flow rate and steam content of the fluidized gas. Then, Nodeworks was employed to determine the optimum operating condition that would produce the desired hydrogen-to-carbon monoxide ratio in the product syngas. Lastly, a single simulation at the optimal operating condition was performed as a check of the optimization process. Another example of how the computational tools can be used to optimize the performance of a cyclone is shown in this video.

Advanced computational tools like MFiX and Nodeworks allow NETL researchers to address technical barriers to the development of next-generation technologies by generating information and understanding beyond the reach of physical experiments alone. A complete description of all the new features of Nodeworks 19.1 is available here.